Catholic Hospital Argues Fetuses Are Not Persons

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against St. Thomas More Hospital in Colorado. Lori Stodghill, who was pregnant with twins, died from a heart-attack shortly after she had been admitted. Her husband filed a suit in which his lawyers argue that a cesarean-section could have saved the twins, and so ought to have been performed.

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.

You can read more here.

6 thoughts on “Catholic Hospital Argues Fetuses Are Not Persons

  1. I keep waiting for someone to make the “You work with the legal regime you have, not the one you wish for” which is sometimes reasonably mobilised (e.g.,to shield people like Buffet from hypocrisy charges for advocating higher taxes on the rich and yet not paying more than currently legally required — of course, perhaps we shouldn’t be very concerned with that sort of hypocrisy). It’d be wrong, of course: It seems that the Catholic church should seize this court moment to try to *expand* the legal notion of personhood in CO.

  2. I expect that the ability of a litigant or for that matter a conscientious lawyer in a case like this to make an argument that a fetus not born alive is, for the strict purposes of the Colorado wrongful death statute, a not a “person” as that term is used in the statute, is somewhat limited, if that’s not the result under the existing law. And of course, regardless of whether the defendant owes a moral obligation to the plaintiff here, it cannot be good public policy for the court or the lawyers to accommodate that obligation with a legally incorrect argument. But maybe this is just what will allow the Church to seize the moment: in theory, the law should allow for only one result in a given set of facts, and if the legally correct result is unfair or morally repugnant, that’s what the Church could highlight. Remember, its position is not necessarily that the fetus IS a person under the current Colorado law (a legal argument), but that if it is not, the law should be changed (a policy argument).

    Bijan, I didn’t understand how the “You work with the legal regime you have, not the one you wish for” argument works to shield Warren buffet’s hypocrisy. There’s nothing in the existing legal regime that would prevent him from transferring more than the minimum required amount of his wealth to the government. He doesn’t need to get the legal regime he wishes for in order to do that today.

  3. Here’s an update to this story:

    The local archdiocese has weighed in:

    As this statement would have it, Catholic Health Initiatives, the Catholic nonprofit that administers the hospital in question, had not been aware that the hospital’s attorneys had advanced this particular legal argument in the hospital’s defense. It was not the primary defense, which was that the hospital had rendered the best possible care and had not been negligent.

  4. I’m not sure that the archdiocese was right to disclaim the legal argument. After all, there doesn’t seem to be a reason why the Church’s defense of fetal personhood is necessarily at odds with every single instance in which a legislature has used the term “person” to refer only to born persons. What about HOV lane restrictions, or maximum room occupancy codes? Granted, a wrongful death lawsuit is a more serious affair, but then again wrongful death actions are intended to protect the rights of survivors, not the rights of the deceased person (other laws and causes of action do that).

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