A Catholic Hospital Argues That Fetuses Aren’t People

Catholic hospitals have a bad reputation among people who understand how they work — and they deserve it. They don’t perform abortions (even to save the life of the mother, as we saw in the case of Savita Halappanavar), they’re awful about dealing with ectopic pregnancies (PDF), they don’t perform tubal ligations or vasectomies… it makes you wonder why they want to be in the health care field in the first place.

But the overriding idea behind those things I just mentioned is that every sperm is sacred and a fertilized egg is treated just like an actual child.

However, a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital has pushed the hospital to go against its own beliefs and say that fetuses aren’t children.

Melanie Asmar at Westword, an alternative weekly newspaper based in Denver, has the story.

The background: Lori Stodghill was seven-months pregnant with twins when she suffered a heart attack. She was taken to St. Thomas More hospital (a Catholic hospital in Colorado), but died due to what appears to be a negligent doctor. Her twins died, too.

Jeremy Stodghill, Lori Stodghill’s husband (Anthony Camera – Westword)

Her husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital’s Catholic overlords arguing that the hospital could have performed a procedure to save the children even if his wife died.

So what are the hospital’s lawyers saying in their defense?

“Under Colorado law, a fetus is not a ‘person,’” Catholic Health Initiatives wrote, “and plaintiff’s claims for wrongful death must therefore be dismissed.”

“The doctrine of the Catholic Church is that life begins at conception,” says Jeremy, who isn’t Catholic himself. “It made me irritated that they’re not following the doctrine of the organization they work for.”

Given those beliefs, Catholic Health Initiatives’ legal argument is hypocritical, says Miguel De La Torre, a professor of social ethics at Denver’s Iliff School of Theology. “What they should be arguing is, ‘Oh, no, all life, from the moment of conception, is life and therefore must be protected,’” De La Torre says. “When you establish yourself in this culture as a moral voice, even when it works against you, you have to maintain that moral voice.”

But David Weddle, a religion professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, says that while the hospital is free to make any legal argument it wants, the question is “whether it’s morally justifiable to defend yourself on a principle you know to be false.

Well, it’s not like we can trust the Catholic Church to be a beacon of morality…

But really, this is unbelievable.

They don’t get to have their baby cake and eat it, too. Either a fetus is a child or it isn’t. You don’t get to change your beliefs just because you might lose a lawsuit by sticking to them. Even if this is just “lawyer-speak,” the Catholic clients are approving it, proving themselves to be hypocrites in the process.

The Colorado Supreme Court will decide in the next few weeks whether or not to hear this case. Even if they decide to rule — probably as they should — based on Colorado law, that fetuses are not people, the Church still needs to suffer from the PR ramifications of denying their own doctrine when it suited their needs.

Their own followers do it all the time; we shouldn’t be surprised that the Church hierarchy does it, too.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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