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.

  • b33bl3br0x

    mmmm baby cake

  • Cecelia Baines

    Just one more example of the horror that is the Catholic Church and Catholics.

    Just fucking disgusting.

  • Randomfactor

    They may be right, actually, according to the law. But they’ll deny having said it next week.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Naked duplicity and hypocrisy. When they want to control people and posture about being moral authorities, they evoke what they claim is “God’s law,” but when they get into trouble, they run and hide behind “Colorado law.”

    As written in the Gospel of Expedius, “Know thy place, which is beneath the feet of the princes of the True Church. Thou shalt doeth what the Lord sayeth, not what the Lord doeth, and His word comes to you only through His righteous chosen emisaries. They shall not be subject to thy questioning.”

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    In addition to my disgust at the hypocrisy of Catholic Health Initiatives, I have to express my sorrow for Jeremy Stodghill, who has lost so much so suddenly.

  • pagansister

    I wish I could be surprised. No attempt to save those tiny little ones? There must have been a small window of time when they could have done a C Section and attempted to save them. Imagine they were very, very small, but little ones less that 1 1/2 pounds have been known to survive now. Even if one had survived, the husband wouldn’t have lost 3 people all at once. Obviously I’m no doctor, but a few times I have read that “fetuses” have been saved when the mother has died. How awfully convenient that Colorado law states that fetuses aren’t people. The fact that the Church has claimed for centuries that the instant conception takes place makes the invisible dot a person is only used when it is protesting a woman’s right to end a pregnancy or telling all faithful Catholic couples that they are supposed to make babies and do nothing to prevent conception. It doesn’t apply to a pregnant woman who dies? The hospital and the Church are full of bull. How can anyone, after this, continue to fall for the line the Church continues to spout? Apparently the dead twins weren’t worth the effort. Their parents weren’t Catholic–did that make a difference?

  • pagansister

    Even if he wins this case—it won’t bring back his wife and babies. I can’t imagine such a loss.

  • pagansister

    I just happened to think—wonder if this will show up on one of the neighboring Catholic sites here?

  • JD

    Your commentary is illogical. They are being sued in a court of law. They’re not denying their doctrine. They’re stating the facts of the law under which they’re being sued.
    You haven’t considered that this is precisely the kind of PR they DO want. If it outrages people in the public that these kids are not recognized as people, maybe it will generate support for changing the law.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I live in an area that has three Catholic hospitals in it, and the nearest not Catholic one is 45 minutes away. I’m completely terrified of having a medical emergency and ending up in one of those hospitals. I doubt I’d actually come out.

  • thebigJ_A

    Don’t worry. Raptors aren’t people under their god’s law. They’ll abort you no problem.

  • A3Kr0n

    And people think atheists are evil…

  • Baby_Raptor

    1) Yes they are denying their doctrine. How often do we hear these Fuck-offs braying about how God’s law supersedes man’s law? And yet when they screw up, instead of sticking to their beliefs and admitting it, they go running to man’s law for protection.

    2) This is not going to cause support for the stupid notion that a two-celled piece of tissue at conception is a person. That’s what most people in the country don’t believe. There’s already wide support for a third trimester fetus having some rights. Hence the fact that they can only be aborted if the mother’s life is in danger or if they have a fatal defect.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    On FB I commented that if they had any sense they’d avoid the PR disaster and settle. But then, this is the Catholic Church we’re talking about.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty


  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    I wish I could be surprised by this.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I learned a new word today and that word is braying.

  • Renshia

    Well it;s the Catholic church, could you really expect anything more?

  • phantomreader42

    What people are outraged about is that the catholic child rape cult constantly lies, for money, for power, or simply because they despise truth with every fiber of their being. And they change their lies, without admitting it, the instant it’s convenient for their pocketbook to do so, and deny having done so whenever they can profit from it.

  • pagansister

    I agree. My question was not totally serious. IMO none of the Catholic Channel bloggers have a way to defend this outrageous act anymore than the can defend the criminal priests.

  • pagansister

    Wish they would settle—-but even if they did, it won’t bring back those babies or his wife. Many companies settle cases without admitting guilt just to get a suit to go away. I wonder if part of the suit is to get the Church to admit it’s guilt in NOT attempting to at least try and save the twins. Obviously I have no idea if that is the case.

  • Rwlawoffice

    I hope the church loses and the fetuses are declared people under Colorado law. Then lets see what the pro abortion people say. Frankly the Catholic Church taking this position is taking advantage of the very law they are trying to change. But their lawyers would be committing malpractice by not using the existing laws.

  • Sven2547

    Not a chance. Calling out flagrant hypocrisy within Catholicism has been grounds for excommunication for hundreds of years.

  • Liberated Liberal

    Seriously? Please do tell me that you’re joking. Please.

    The Catholic Church spits in the face of law when it comes to taking away the rights of others, most notably women. They are gleeful when women die or lose organs in order to support their position that a fetus is a person deserving of rights (way more rights than an actual woman, actually). They will deny laws about carrying health coverage with birth control, because OH MY GOD the PRECIOUS CHILDREN. But the moment the Church might have to pay consequences for their own mistake, they hide under “the law under which they’re being sued” and deny their own doctrine. All to make sure they don’t have to pay a dime for the family that lost these fetuses, errrr., people, err… fetuses, uhhh…..

    Do you really believe this is going to give them POSITIVE attention? All they are doing is showing how extremely shallow the entire “Pro-Life” position is, and proving, once again, that the only thing they care about is themselves. They only “care” about the fetus or zygote or sperm or precious child or whatever when it allows them the opportunity to exercise their power and control over YOU.

  • compl3x

    A foetus is a person, unless it is a financial liability.

  • Liberated Liberal

    Finding the doctors and staff at this Catholic Institution guilty of malpractice or incompetence will not change Colorado law regarding the personhood of fetus, nor will it change any “Pro Abortion” minds. What is at stake is whether or not these people fucked up. Most normal people look at 7-month-old fetuses as babies in as much as they are wanted, and they were obviously very much wanted. These are third-trimester fetuses here, which ALREADY HAVE RIGHTS under the law, in that third-trimester abortions are illegal unless they are killing the mother. How is the Catholic Church being 100% hypocritical going to change anybody’s minds again?

  • Liberated Liberal

    I totally expect them to talk about this – openly and honestly while confronting the hard questions regarding their Church and its policies and practices. Totally. I like, really, really do.

  • Helanna

    I can see already that people are hiding behind “Well, that’s the law of the state! So the Church isn’t actually declaring that fetuses aren’t people, the state already did and they’re just using that.”

    So what they’re saying is, the Church is so cowardly that it would rather fold and hide behind a law they very vocally disagree with rather than admit mistake. Awesome. You guys must be so proud.

  • coyotenose

    Jesus but your reading comprehension is terrible. And so much for your “morality”.

    Oh, and no one is “pro abortion”. You’re still a lying sack.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Cool! I don’t think I’ve ever taught someone a word before. lol

  • Baby_Raptor

    Lying sack of shit lies again. What’s new?

    Third trimester fetuses already have rights under the law. One would think, since you’re so “pro-life,” you would know that abortion is only legal until week 24 barring harm to the mother or fatal defect.

    But your agenda is to force every woman to birth every single pregnancy she conceives, so I guess it’s not surprising you don’t care about the actual facts. You just care that a fetus gets birthed. The woman, and the baby after it’s born, don’t mean shit.

  • Steve Bowen

    Actually I am pro-abortion.,to the extent that I think that there can be circumstances when aborting a fetus is the moral position. I certainly do not subscribe to the idea that abortion is a ‘necessary evil’ to be avoided if at all possible.

  • Steve Bowen

    The Church may well try to spin it so that it looks like that was their intention. A “we told you so” position. Don’t see it working though, and it would be a cynical exploitation of a tragedy.

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

    I’m pro abortion. Just like I’m pro cardiopulmonary bypass, pro appendectomy, pro surgery for important matters that are no big deal in the real world.

  • John (not McCain)

    I thought they liked martyrs who stood up to the state and paid with their lives. I thought they held such people up as role models, with whole books written praising them. Must have been a dream.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Well award yourself one cookie of your choice for a job well done.

  • Gus Snarp

    By all means Catholics, contribute your arguments to the pile of case law supporting the precedent that a fetus is not a child. It will be great fun to have your own words read back to you when you are filing briefs in support of anti-abortion legislation or defending yourselves for letting a woman die rather than terminate a dangerous pregnancy.

  • CultOfReason

    But their lawyers would be committing malpractice by not using the existing laws.

    At the end of the day, the lawyer is obliged to do what the client requests, so I don’t fault them. It is the Church that is committing “theological malpractice” by not following their doctrine and either settling the case or finding a different argument. If they don’t believe the case has merit, then they should be arguing that malpractice did not occur, not that the fetuses are not people. Seems to me they are just looking for the easiest way out of this law suit, hypocrisy be damned.

  • Cecelia Baines

    Seth MacFarlane and his “Family Guy” nailed this with his “Partial-Terms of Endearment” episode. Peter learns the propaganda of the anti-women/abortion side and falls for it. When asked why he says:

    “No Lois, I’m here to save the unborn. Once they get out of the vagina they can go fuck themselves.”
    Let’s see if I can find a link….


  • Cecelia Baines

    These evil fucks need to have RICO charges brought against them and be labeled a hate group.

  • youandyourcronies

    They can’t have it both ways, and trying to have it both ways exposes the bankruptcy of their position.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    OT, but although I’m honestly a little scared to ask, I’d really like your take on http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/01/24/evangelical-christianity-is-exporting-a-gospel-of-intolerance-to-uganda/

  • pagansister

    OMG we can’t have that—excommunication! Hell awaits those that have that punishment for THE LORD! :-)

  • pagansister

    that should be “Hell awaits those that have that punishment FROM THE LORD’s representatives.” :-)

  • Ian

    Not sure that’s quite right; they argued the fetuses weren’t “persons”–which is a legal and bioethical distinction, not a theological one. “Children” and “people” mean nothing legally, but “person” does. I agree there’s a whiff of hypocrisy, but I believe the argument is more technical than the story presents.

  • rwlawoffice

    I have not reviewed the actual court opinions that are referenced in the
    article or the brief upon which it is based so I am basing my comments
    only on the article itself.

    According to the article what will change is the definition of person under the Colorado Wrongful Death Statutes. If the fetus is declared a “person” for which damages can be had for its death, that is apparently a significant change. It would set a nice precedent for fetuses being given rights as persons. Just as the personhood laws that are trying to be presented in legislatures across the country. The very same laws that pro abortion folks are trying to prevent from being passed.

    For the record, I don’t agree with the Catholic church taking this position. Unless they are doing so to get the definition changed for a bigger purpose, but I doubt that. In addition, it doesn’t appear that the court can change the definition anyway. Wrongful death statutes are created by the legislature and can only be changed by the legislature.

  • rwlawoffice

    I agree that the lawyers have the responsibility to tell their client of the law. The client can decide to forgoe that defense and in this case, to be consistent with their teachings, the church should.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1078695333 David Kopp

    The argument may be “technical”, but it is still hypocrisy. If the church is against abortion and wants to define the unborn as people, then they need to define the unborn as people and accede this suit. Even if the church is arguing within the confines of the law, there is no way they can say that it’s morally “right” according to their teachings.

  • rwlawoffice

    I viewed the video. My take is that the Christians role in Uganda should be to help those in need and not to get involved in their politics. The video did not connect those that were sending missionaries to the bills being past except to say that the pastors over there and the politician was said to have received support from conservatives. That may be so but I would want to know more. From experience, I can tell you that in Uganda people there see Westerners as a source of funds for whatever they want to do so you have to be careful and cautious when you supply money to them. I can also tell you that the church is influential in the government because the church is a way to build influence in an otherwise impoverished country. Politicians will align themselves to the church in order to gain support and finances because the churches do get money from the west.

    That being said, the message of the Christian faith, the Good news, is one of grace and love. There is no call for death or harm to the gay community that can be justified under proper Christian theology and I would argue that with any Christian who thinks there is. That does not mean however that as Christians we can hold the homosexual lifestyle to be a moral equivalent to the sexual lifestyle within a marriage that is called for in the Bible.

    One of the major problems in Uganda when it comes to sexual issues is promiscuity. Rather that be heterosexual or homosexual, it is causing a significant and tragic Aids problem that leads to thousands of orphans. So instead of preaching on homosexuality, I would preach on monogamy, marriage fidelity and grace.

  • Glasofruix

    That being said, the message of the Christian faith, the Good news, is one of grace and love.


  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Or, as Saint George of Carlin once said, “If you’re pre-born, you’re fine. If you’re pre-school, you’re fucked.”

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I was going to quote:

    “They haven’t been fathered enough. What is does is it closes the door to compromise and the sexual immorality and perversion.”

    from the video, but in reading what you wrote again, there isn’t much point. You agree with everything there.

    The video did not connect those that were sending missionaries to the bills being past except to say that the pastors over there and the politician was said to have received support from conservatives. That may be so but I would want to know more.

    There is no call for death or harm to the gay community that can be justified under proper Christian theology and I would argue that with any Christian who thinks there is.

    I hope you will try hard to set aside your confirmation bias, because you know you really don’t want your money promoting the death and torture of your fellow human beings.

    I hope you do want to know more, and I hope you do your homework to make sure your money isn’t going to a theology that you would argue against.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

    Only if it’s not them being martyred.

  • Bill

    Paying with lives is fine. It’s the paying money they’re objecting to.

  • Joseph Moloney

    I agree it’s hypocritical (in a sense) but I tell you what, you make your bed and you lie in it – secular humanist politicians argued for such a definition of life against the Catholic Church’s beliefs and this is the fall out.

    Thus, how on earth can the doctor be prosecuted for a law THAT DOESN’T EXIST in the court he’s arguing in???? Really, this highlights the stupidity of the claimant appealing to criminal court, but expecting church laws/teachings to apply??? What would you suggest – that the doctor imprison himself – this article doesn’t even make sense?

  • Anon

    ‘But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.’ – Matthew 10:33
    I do so love it when people contradict things they claim to love.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Don’t confuse religion and legalism done with the essence of the Christian faith.

  • Glasofruix

    Same shit, different package.

  • Bdole

    “whiff”/ “reeking and pungent stench” tomato/ tomahto.

  • Nebuladance

    “they don’t perform tubal ligations or vasectomies… ”

    I had my tubes tied at a Catholic hospital after my last child was delivered via a c-section. Hospital was chosen because it is the only one in our town that allows the baby to co-sleep with the mother. So, its a bit off topic, but I am confused by this statement.

  • meg
  • pagansister

    Thank you, meg. I went to The Deacon’s Bench and clicked on one of his backtracks. He hasn’t been taking comments on his site since last summer. I miss not being able to comment on his site, as he usually has very interesting news on it. Glad this has been brought up on the Catholic Channel—I thought they might attempt to just avoid it.

  • pagansister

    You must have had a very liberal Catholic hospital—-m son was born 41 years ago in a Catholic hospital and I’m sure they wouldn’t have done that for me if I had wanted that.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson
  • hongryhawg

    If the deaths occurred due to a negligent physician and not the hospital’s policy, the issue should be negligence on the physician and by extension, the hospital. Since it was apparently the physician that made the bad call and not the hospital, I feel the hospital has every moral right to use Colorado’s law to defend itself from what could potentially be astronomical damages. On the other hand, if it had been the hospital’s policy that had allowed the deaths, then yes, it is hypocritical. In this case, if I’m understanding it correctly, while the hospital is ultimately responsible because the doctor works under their flag, they have every right and obligation to defend themselves under Colorado law. Now, if Colorado law states that fetus’ are in fact, considered children, then the hospital wouldn’t much to stand on. Just my thoughts.