When the Catholic institution St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, Colorado, was charged with the wrongful death of three patients, it relied on its defense regarding two of the patients, unborn twins, on Colorado’s Wrongful Death Act. The Act holds that an embryo is not a person until it is born alive.

On New Year’s Day, 2006, Lori Stodghill at the age of 31 was carrying twins when she began vomiting and became short of breath. She went to St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, Colorado. Before she left the waiting room, Stodghill died. The twins were stillborn.

Her husband, Jeremy Stodghill, filed a lawsuit against the hospital and its owner, Catholic Health Initiatives, for the wrongful death of all three.

The hospital, using the Wrongful Death Act in its defense, prevailed. Defense attorneys for the doctors and the hospital argued the twins died before they were born. Therefore the defendants could not be guilty of wrongful death, because of the Colorado act.

This is contrary to the Catholic Church decree that life begins at conception. Using the Church’s logic, Stodghill should have won the suit accusing the defendants of wrongful death. However, because the court upheld the state act, he lost the lawsuit.

He also lost the case claiming compensation for loss of his wife.

The Canon City Daily Record published an editorial on Feb. 4, 2013, written by Sheri Trahern, Chief Administrative Officer of St. Thomas More Hospital.

“Unfortunately,” wrote Trahern, “complicated questions involving issues such as Church law, Colorado’s Wrongful Death Act and the definition of ‘personhood’ have blurred or distorted the heroic efforts of the medical personnel who did all they could on New Year’s Day 2006 to try and save the lives of 31-year-old Lori Stodghill and her unborn twins.”

Upon arrival at the hospital, Trahern said in her article, Lori Stodghill stopped breathing, collapsed and went into cardiac arrest. Trahern wrote that her death was due to pulmonary emboli and the complete obstruction of her left and right pulmonary arteries. An emergency room doctor tried to resuscitate her, a nurse could detect no fetal heartbeat when using Doppler technology, and an obstetrician confirmed, using an ultrasound of the fetuses, that no heart activity or movement could be seen or heard.

After Mr. Stodghill lost, he appealed the court’s decision. He was then countersued by the hospital and doctors for more than $118,000 in legal fees. The plaintiffs also tried to garnish his wages. A legal document revealed that if Stodghill were to drop the appeal, the hospital and other defendants said it would not charge the fees.

Mr. Stodghill, however, refused to reverse his appeal. Then he filed for bankruptcy so he wouldn’t have to pay the fees. He says he cannot afford the fees, “as he has been left alone to raise the couple’s now-9-year old daughter.”

Stodghill now is asking the Colorado Supreme Court to take up the case. CNN says that the hospital’s and doctors’ attorneys will not cite Colorado’s Wrongful Death Act in any further court proceedings.

Reportedly, the hospital has changed its position. It now says the previous stance was “morally wrong.”

Sources:

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