Catholic Health Group Calls Own Legal Strategy ‘Morally Wrong’

Posted February 6, 2013 in Medical Malpractice by

Hands clasping a rosary

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Attorneys for Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) will stop relying on a Colorado law that says human fetuses aren’t people, according to a statement released by the health care group.

CHI drew criticism last month after it defended a wrongful death lawsuit involving twin boys who died in utero by citing the Colorado Wrongful Death Act, which says that injured parties are entitled to damages “when the death of a person is caused by a wrongful act.” Under the statute, the term “person” does not include unborn fetuses.

CHI’s argument was legally sound, but was clearly inconsistent with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which states that “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death’” and the church’s “defense of life encompasses the unborn and the care of women and their children during and after pregnancy.”

After reviewing the case with the Catholic bishops of Colorado, CHI acknowledged that it was “morally wrong” to cite the Colorado law, noting that it “directly contradicts the moral teachings of the Church.”

“Although the argument was legally correct, recourse to an unjust law was morally wrong,” the statement said.

The case is currently up for consideration by the state Supreme Court, and CHI says it will not cite Colorado’s Wrongful Death Act again if the high court takes the case.


Three Tragic Deaths

Jeremy Stodghill filed the wrongful death suit nearly two years after his wife, Lori Stodghill, died of a heart attack in the emergency room of St. Thomas More Hospital. Lori was seven months pregnant at the time, and on-call physicians decided against performing an emergency C-section after failing to detect fetal heartbeats. In his suit, which names CHI, the hospital and two doctors, Jeremy said that the emergency procedure had a chance of saving all three lives.

The trial court judge threw the suit out, citing medical experts who said that Lori had little chance of survival even if the C-section was performed. But the judge also acknowledged that the question of negligence was moot concerning the deaths of the fetal twins, since Colorado’s wrongful death law did not protect them.


Six-Figure Legal Bills

Beth L. Krulewitch, one of Stodghill’s attorneys, says that the statement from CHI is too little, too late.

Beth L. Krulewitch

“Mr. Stodghill is very disappointed in the press release from Catholic Health Initiatives,” Krulewitch said. “It is inaccurate as to how it characterizes the decisions of the lower courts, and it does nothing to address the harm done to Jeremy Stodghill in this case.”

After the suit was dismissed, one of the doctors named in the suit pursued wage garnishment against Stodghill to recover his legal expenses. Stodghill filed for bankruptcy as a result, and now owes more than $100,000 in total legal costs.

CHI also filed for compensation of its legal fees and was awarded $47,000 from Stodghill, but it has not filed for a lien or wage garnishment.

What do you think of CHI’s statement? Is it sufficient for them to call the strategy “morally wrong,” or should they offer Stodghill a settlement in good faith? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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