Catholic hospital finds it in their heart (or best interest) to argue in court that fetuses aren’t people.

Gah, I see Dr. Dave already got to this while I was on the road yesterday.  Ah well, it’s a good enough story to get out there twice.  :P


I’m back in the saddle, er, office (er, my own bedroom).  I woke up this morning feeling refreshed, brought up the news, and it’s like not god was sending me a welcome back gift.

There is a Catholic hospital, St. Thomas More hospital in Cañon City, that upholds the Catholic view on abortion: that it ends a life, is tantamount to murder, etc.

Last year, the hospital chain reported national assets of $15 billion. The organization’s mission, according to its promotional literature, is to “nurture the healing ministry of the Church” and to be guided by “fidelity to the Gospel.” Toward those ends, Catholic Health facilities seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those rules have stirred controversy for decades, mainly for forbidding non-natural birth control and abortions. “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” the directives state. “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.”

Boom!  They’re committed.

So, sad thing, a few years back a pregnant woman was brought into their ER with a clog in an essential artery that ultimately led to her having a heart attack.  The obstetrician who was on call for emergencies that night was paged, but never responded.  The woman died, as did the twins in her womb.  Now her husband is filing a wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of not only his wife, but on behalf of the twins who experts say could have been saved via caesarian-section.

So with its back to the wall, does the Catholic Health Initiatives (the group that runs the hospital) stick to their principles, accept responsibility, and use some of their multitudes of funds to make right on their mistake?  Of course not.  They run from responsibility like a child molester from the police.

Catholic organizations have for decades fought to change federal and state laws that fail to protect “unborn persons,” and Catholic Health’s lawyers in this case had the chance to set precedent bolstering anti-abortion legal arguments. Instead, they are arguing state law protects doctors from liability concerning unborn fetuses on grounds that those fetuses are not persons with legal rights.

As Jason Langley, an attorney with Denver-based Kennedy Childs, argued in one of the briefs he filed for the defense, the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”

Don’t worry though.  As soon as they’re off the hook for their fuck up, it’ll be back to “fetuses are a human life we must protect.”

Don’t blame them – this is what almost all religious people do.  They’re all about their religious principles until those principles actually affect their lives, then all of a sudden human wisdom is pretty grand.  “Yes the bible is true…but no pre-marital sex?  That’s open to interpretation…by me.”

I'll bet you one unplanned pregnancy that you are secretly pro-choice.

Abortions, pre-marital sex, love thy neighbor, they’re all immutable moral laws handed down by god himself until they become inconvenient, then suddenly god is forgiving or wanted what we presently want the entire time.

Of course, many religious people are capable of taking responsibility without lying and dodging when they’ve caused grievous harm to others .  Catholic organizations have, shall we say, a pretty horrible record of living up to any human standard in that regard.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Katie

    There are so many reasons to find this whole thing reprehensible.

    1. The obvious hypocrisy. There are sometimes good reasons to drop your principles, but “we might have to pay up to a victim of ours” ain’t one of ‘em.

    2. The hospital was obviously in the wrong. It is just not acceptable to shrug it off when a specialist fails to respond to a page. This can happen. There needs to be a contingency plan.

    3. The law – and the precedent the hospital is helping to set – is TERRIBLE. It literally incentivizes doctors to NOT attempt a live birth under risky circumstances, even when the baby is wanted and the mother is already dying or deceased. Why? Because if a wanted pregnancy has NO legal value prior to delivery, and a delivered baby is immediately imbued with all the rights of a citizen, attempting a live birth actually creates legal liability.

  • smrnda

    The law does probably specify that the unborn are not ‘persons’ but if the Catholic church was really so concerned with the unborn, they should be willing to fork over the $$$ for the twins as well. Though they seem opposed to the law that says the unborn are not persons, they seem to be fine with the law as long as it’s keeping them from paying money.

  • Randy

    I seen this in support of the church online, wondering what you all think.

    Number one, there’s a better than even chance that the hospital, Catholic though it may be, is being defended by a lawyer hired by an insurance company. Under most insurance policies, the company has a duty to pay to defend lawsuits against the insured, depending on the policy terms. The insurance company also has the power to dictate how the defense is conducted, since, if the case goes south, it’s the insurance company that ends up paying the plaintiff.

    Number two, a lawyer is ethically obligated to advance all colorable arguments that protect the client’s interests. So, if in Colorado the law is “the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive” then the lawyer has to advance that argument. Despite what you might wish to argue, the hospital, the insured, has no right to tell the insurance company not to make that argument, since one possible outcome of that would be the insurance company, not the hospital, would be on the hook for any damage award.

    This point surfaces every time in response to a civil suit for, say, a rape, the defendant’s answer includes the boilerplate defense that the complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted. It’s not a suggestion that an allegation of rape isn’t a compensible injury. It’s a standard part of every answer filed in every lawsuit in America.

    Sorry this story you found doesn’t prove the point you’d like it to.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd JT Eberhard

      I understand that lawyers lie to win. However, lawyers are not claiming to be the world’s moral authority – that would be the Catholic church. When a lawyer tells them that he’s going to lie to get them off the hook, if they are truly a moral authority they should say “no”. They have not done that.

      This story proves exactly the point I was making.

    • RuQu

      My response is largely on this point:

      “a lawyer is ethically obligated to advance all colorable arguments that protect the client’s interests”

      The interests of the Catholic Church, if it truly believes that abortion is murder and the unborn are people, should be to agree that they were in the wrong. That promotes their “interests” more than saving the money does, and fighting it actively opposes the interests of the Church as evidenced by posts like JT’s and all across the internet now.

      Merely fighting the suit hurts the interests of the very, very wealthy Church more than any payout would.

    • Niemand

      The client can instruct their lawyer not to act in a way that the client feels is unethical. For example, suppose a patient died under dubious circumstances at a public hospital. The hospital’s lawyer argued that there should be no wrongful death suit because the person who died was black and the constitution says that blacks are only 3/5 of a person. Would you have any respect for the hospital if they didn’t at minimum reprimand the lawyer and instruct them never to use that argument again? Realistically, that would be an argument that I would say should result in the firing of that lawyer. Because you don’t want a lawyer that’s going to make a vile, dehumanizing argument, even if it would win the case. If your case depends on dehumanizing the person who was wronged, maybe you should lose it.

      Yet the Catholic church apparently has no problem with their lawyer arguing against fetal personhoood. Late fetuses, 7 months old, well past viability. If they really believed that fetuses were people, they’d fire their lawyer and possibly excommunicate him or her for being totally disgusting and inhumane. Instead, they’re hiding behind him/her. What does that say about their position on fetal personhood?

      Incidentally, the pregnant woman’s death might have been prevented if she got aggressive care up front. It sounds like she had a saddle embolus-very dangerous, but not necessarily fatal if treated promptly. So not only did their OB fail to answer a page and they fail to have a backup plan for if that happens, they also didn’t get her evaluated by pulmonary/critical care, heme, and vascular in a timely manner. Really, it sounds like a hospital that should be closed or at least carefully evaluated to ensure its standard of care isn’t usually this bad.

    • Niemand

      Despite what you might wish to argue, the hospital, the insured, has no right to tell the insurance company not to make that argument, since one possible outcome of that would be the insurance company, not the hospital, would be on the hook for any damage award.

      Hospitals are almost always self-insured. They are the insurance company and can direct their lawyers accordingly.

      • RuQu

        And even if they do have separate insurance, and the insurance is insisting on the use of the argument, the local diocese that oversees the Church could issue a statement saying they oppose the use of it.

        So far, silence.

  • Randy

    Excellent points!

  • Niemand

    If I believed fetuses were persons who were being oppressed and were the hospital or church, I’d consider this a wonderful “make lemonade from lemons” opportunity. All they have to do is not fight the lawsuit, let the plantiff win and then they have a precedent for claiming that Colorado acknowledges fetuses as people and abortion should be illegal. It seems that the church’s dedication to making money outweighs their dedication to protecting “the unborn”. Who would have thought? Well, except anyone who has studied European history, of course.

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