The Limits Of Catholic Morality

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

catholic healthOn New Year’s Day 2006, 31-year-old Lori Stodghill, seven months pregnant with twin boys, was vomiting and out of breath. She called her obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, and he instructed her to go to the emergency room at St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City, Colorado. Her husband Jeremy, drove her to the hospital where Lori later suffered a cardiac arrest and stopped breathing due to a pulmonary embolism. Staples never ended up coming to the hospital. Lori’s unborn sons stayed with her.

Nearly two years later, Jeremy sued the hospital, Staples and ER doctor John Pelner for the wrongful death of his wife and twins. The hospital is one of the 78 in 17 states operated by Catholic Health Initiatives.

Regarding Lori’s unborn sons, Catholic Health Initiatives wrote that “under Colorado law, a fetus is not a ‘person,’ and plaintiff’s claims for wrongful death must therefore be dismissed.”

This legal argument, no doubt proposed by their lawyers and approved by Catholic Health Initiatives, is legally sound.

Catholic Health facilities seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This doctrine promises: “to respect the sacredness of every human life from the moment of conception.” This example of hypocrisy on the part of Catholic Health Initiatives cannot be used as an argument invalidating this doctrine without committing the fallacy of ad hominem tu quoque.

However, the Catholic Church has positioned itself as an authority on morality. When that morality is sacrificed for money, the Church’s authority is nullified. David Weddle, a religion professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, asks whether it’s “morally justifiable to defend yourself on a principle you know to be false.”

Catholic Health Initiatives asked the judge to dismiss the case since Lori would have died regardless of what the hospital did. Fremont County District Court Judge David Thorson sided with Catholic Health Initiatives and dismissed Jeremy’s lawsuit. The doctors and the hospital came after Jeremy for $118,969 in legal fees and he was forced to declare bankruptcy. He also filed a brief asking a panel of three appellate judges to reverse the district court ruling.

H/T: Denver Westworld News, Jerry Coyne, The Colorado Independent, Charles P. Pierce, John Casey, Howard Friedman.

52 thoughts on “The Limits Of Catholic Morality”

  1. Raff,
    I always understand the concept of “best interest of the client;” however, in this case, I think it was incumbent on the law firm to point out to their clients the inherent hypocrisy of the defense and that there will be massive fallout. Sometimes it is just better to get out the checkbook and do the right thing. Also, if the attorneys were good Catholics who believe the teaching of the church, they should have had an ethical obligation to either withdraw from the case or refuse to use this hypocritical defense, successful though it was.

    I heard a news story last night of a New York restaurant who had one of their customers arrested. The customer had forgotten his wallet and offered to leave his expensive smart phone as security while he went and retrieved his wallet. Instead, the restaurant management had him arrested and he spent the night in jail. To make it even worse, he is an Italian citizen, so this has now escalated to the status of an international incident. I have an idea the attendant negative publicity, especially on network and cable news programs, will cost the restaurant a heck of a lot more than the price of one meal.

    Businesses need to be careful about their actions in these days of social media and 24 hour news coverage. Not to mention blogs like this one.

  2. This Dogalogue machine does not hear my barks sometimes. The Chuch is NOW estopped, substitute Now for Not in the above.

  3. Estoppel by judicial fiat. The doctrine of estoppel is such that if you take a position in a situation, say a deed, then you are stopped from denying the facts you stated on that deed. The same is true for a court pleading. So the Catholic Church is not estopped to deny some facts about life here. We can call this “judicial estoppel by facts of life”. The church cannot now state that life begins at conception, or before the feet hit the ground. Maybe this will be known as “the rubber meets the road” doctrine for situations where the rubber broke.

    So, tomorrow, “demain” if you are in France, go to your Catolick church, and when they start that crap about life beginning at conception then say “Stop”. “You are estopped to deny the position that you took in that wrongful death case.” When they throw you out, maybe some will leave the flock and go with you.

    Remember the legal doctrine. Estoppel. The are estopped to deny the position taken in this judicial proceeding. As Lard is my witness this Sunday. And Krisco on Monday. Just makin fun, no pun intended. No nuns either.

  4. Bruce – the hospital industry is going through the sort of consolidation that other industries have gone through. Often there is no choice & occasionally when there is they are all owned by the same group so not really a choice either.

    Your reading comprehension also seems to be suffering. The doctor could have performed an emergency ‘C’ section they could have saved the babies at least. That makes the malpractice suit very winnable. As for the RCC involvement not making a difference, perhaps not for the malpractice piece but their defense that the fetuses were not people makes it an interesting juxtaposition given their insistence that any glop of cells (or even their component parts when they church feels like it) are people & must be treated as such.

    Is there any ignorant, backwards position you will not defend using ignorance of facts and denial of reality as your rhetorical tools?

  5. The hospitals do more good than bad, nobodys making you go into one at gun point. So go to the one down the street. You think the hospital didn’t try to save their lives? As for the doctor, there’s probably not much he could do that the staff in the emergency room didn’t do. Just because it was a Catholic hospital has nothing to do with it. Maybe the bad advise Jeremy got from the Ambulance chaser should be responsible for the defences legal fees?

  6. Unbelievable…. I hope the panel reverses the decision….. What about the fetus…. Were they viable…..

  7. Sadly it is becoming newsworthy for the Catholic Church when their behavior is moral, and consistent with their stated ‘beliefs” since news is the uncommon, not the common.

  8. The problem with moral beliefs in our money oriented society is that sometimes an institutions innate ethical orientation may negatively affect the fiscal bottom line. Such a case came to my attention this week in Colorado. It involved the tragic death of a seven months pregnant young mother, who died in a Catholic Hospital along with the “deaths” of her two fetuses. Catholic Hospitals have long been distinctive in that the medicine they provide must be in line with the teachings of the Church. These teachings include refusal to prescribe artificial means of birth control, performance of abortions, refusal to save the life of a mother by aborting a fetus and ending human life even if the patient is in a vegetative state.

    As a non-Catholic, whose mother had to be frequently hospitalized, I can remember discussions between my parents about never going to a Catholic Hospital and indeed transferring from one when taken there in an emergency. This is a distinctive feature of Catholic Hospitals throughout this country and although many are excellent institutions, their moral beliefs must be taken into account by any prospective patient. This case which I will fully describe thus stirs my interest because a subsequent lawsuit filed by the young women’s husband. This lawsuit resulted in the hospitals’ lawyers developing a defense that is diametrically opposed to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore I believe the defense reeks of hypocrisy in the service saving money. While I’m not Catholic and don’t believe in their moral teachings in these areas, I recognize and support their right to their religious beliefs. However, I don’t believe that any institution can claim a moral high ground, if it is not willing to abide by the logical results of having taken their stand. I’ll present the facts and then elicit your opinions.

    “Lori Stodghill was 31-years old, seven-months pregnant with twin boys and feeling sick when she arrived at St. Thomas More hospital in Cañon City on New Year’s Day 2006. She was vomiting and short of breath and she passed out as she was being wheeled into an examination room. Medical staff tried to resuscitate her but, as became clear only later, a main artery feeding her lungs was clogged and the clog led to a massive heart attack. Stodghill’s obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, who also happened to be the obstetrician on call for emergencies that night, never answered a page. His patient died at the hospital less than an hour after she arrived and her twins died in her womb.”

    These are the initial facts of this tale. Mrs. Stodgill was an obstetric patient at this hospital and was taken there expecting the assistance of both her Obstetrician and their medical staff. One would presume that both she and her husband understood that by the nature of this hospital every effort would be made to save the live of both herself and of her fetal twins. I don’t know if the Stodgills are Catholic, but I would imagine if they were, that they took comfort in the fact that she would be treated in a way that would coincide with the moral teachings of the Church.

    “In the aftermath of the tragedy, Stodgills husband Jeremy, a prison guard, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of himself and the couple’s then-two-year-old daughter Elizabeth. Staples should have made it to the hospital, his lawyers argued, or at least instructed the frantic emergency room staff to perform a caesarian-section. The procedure likely would not have saved the mother, a testifying expert said, but it may have saved the twins.”

    So we see that what is being litigated here is not wrongful death of the mother, but wrongful death of the unborn twins. Now my own personal viewpoint and the belief of the religion I was raised in is that life begins at the first breath, so personally I am not in favor of this lawsuit. However, to look at this case objectively I think that the argument can and will be made that the Stodgills used this specific hospital and obstetrician specifically because of its commitment to save the life of the unborn and that they failed in that commitment.

    “The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives, the Englewood-based nonprofit that runs St. Thomas More Hospital as well as roughly 170 other health facilities in 17 states. 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.” “

    This hospital and its large parent company have clearly made the commitment to provide medical care that is consonant with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. While to some, this results in rather controversial practices on the part of given hospital, the practices are assertions made over many years in this country and their right to practice in this manner has been upheld repeatedly as freedom of religious practice. The outcome of Roe v. Wade has never resulted in a decision that I know of, that forces religious based hospitals to perform abortions, or violate their religious practices.

    Now as this newspaper article in “The Colorado Independent” goes on to explain this moral posture has caused considerable difficulty for many Catholic Hospitals as some of the parent companies try to expand their operations. The difficulties arise when they try to gain control of publicly funded hospitals because of separation of church and state issues.

    “The directives can complicate business deals for Catholic Health, as they can for other Catholic health care providers, partly by spurring political resistance. In 2011, the Kentucky attorney general and governor nixed a plan in which Catholic Health sought to merge with and ultimately gain control of publicly funded hospitals in Louisville. The officials were reacting to citizen concerns that access to reproductive and end-of-life services would be curtailed. According to The Denver Post, similar fears slowed the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth’s plan over the last few years to buy out Exempla Lutheran Medical Center and Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center in the Denver metro area.”

    The issues of Church and State separation have been common ones discussed on this blog. When one considers the activism that has marked the RCC’s involvement in trying to pass laws that would outlaw abortion and even birth control, think “Morning After” pill, a win in this suit by the Stodgills would actually be a win for the exact points that the Church and the entire anti-abortion movement has been making for decades. Why then and on what grounds is this lawsuit being opposed?

    “But when it came to mounting a defense in the Stodgill case, Catholic Health’s lawyers effectively turned the Church directives on their head. 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.”

    The Catholic Health attorneys have so far won decisions from Fremont County District Court Judge David M. Thorson and now-retired Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Arthur Roy.”

    The Stodgills have appealed and at this time the case is awaiting review by the Colorado Supreme Court. Hypocrisy is my term for this defense being used in this case; I see nothing else to call it. The literally hundreds of millions spent since Roe v. Wade by those activists who seek to overturn it has as their central premise that life begins at conception and that the unborn fetus should have the rights of a living human being. If this lawsuit is successful, then it would establish precedent for this idea at least in Colorado, with perhaps wider consequences. I would imagine that from an anti-abortion sentiment and from the perspective of the Roman Catholic Church, this precedent would be a good and moral outcome. Surely, even giving the Stodgills millions of dollars would be a worthy cause in establishing the validity of the sanctity of the unborn. Beyond that, one would think that the tinge of hypocrisy will be laid at the doorstep of this Catholic Hospital Corporation, which would be quite harmful to their image. Indeed, what is the position of the Colorado Catholic hierarchy on this case?

    Since this story made such a immediate negative impact one would think that some damage control would be forthcoming. On Thursday January 24th, the Catholic hierarchy in Colorado began their damage control:

    “In a letter, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan and Pueblo Bishop Fernando Isern said that Catholic institutions had “a duty to protect and foster human life”, which they said begins at conception.

    “No Catholic institution may legitimately work to undermine fundamental human dignity,” the statement said.

    The bishops said that they would carry out a “full review of this litigation and of the policies and practises … to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church.””

    One could almost compare the statement to that at the Federal level where a “commission” is appointed to hide away a problem that has embarrassing political details that would tend to affect all parties. The fact is in my opinion that the correct ruling under Colorado Law would be for the hospitals since under Colorado Law the fetuses don’t have person-hood.

  9. Quietly the RCC has been buying up hospitals in small communities so that they control healthcare in much the same way WalMart destroyed small town commerce. The ultimate consequences of this predatory practice will be bad for small towns and healthcare in general.

    Large corps are doing this also so its a race to see who can extract the maximum amount of cash out of the system while providing the minimum amount of care.

  10. OS,
    I am with you on your comment about the bishops, but the attorneys were just doing their job on behalf of their client. It was the correct legal argument under Colorado law. The despicable part of it is how the Church will prostitute its own beliefs for money. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at this stage.

  11. Anyone have a link to the appellate brief?

    It seems like there were factual disputes that would preclude dismissal.

    Colorado’s civil rules are similar to the federal rules of civil procedure.

  12. The doc did not show up because he was cross dressing at the church so that it would look fine for Easter. “It” meaning the cross not the pedophine priests.

    The court has it wrong. It is “standing to sue” that would prevent the lawsuit from going forward. If a fetus is never progressed to the point of birth and landing on its feet it has no “standing”. There is no exception for crawling. So, the wiggle room for one year olds is tenuous. Standing To Sue was the topic of an article yesterday on the blog. Likewise a Catolic Church has no standing to sue. That is because the church is not a corporation and is not a person. It has no First Amendment rights to free expression or freedom of religion under that prong. In fact the only prong it has is that exhibited by pedophine priests on February 29th on leap year. That is the day that they can cross dress and get away with it. If you dont believe me its all in the scriptures. Geiko II verse I. If you go to the Sears Roebuck version of the King James Version then it is in Aflack I verse II. There is also a secular book out about the problem called A Nation Of Sheep. Baaaa.

  13. The Doctor didn’t even bother to show up???? He should be strung up, hanging from the steeple of his church. Hope they didn’t interrupt his golf game, or something else important.

  14. After following this story for some time, I still am speechless. The hypocrisy in this whole affair stinks to high heaven. Gandhi once made a comment to the effect that he liked that Jesus fellow, but did not care much for his followers.

    I am sure Jesus would have sued the grieving father into bankruptcy. Not!

    If there is a Hell, I hope there is a special hot spot reserved for these bishops, their bosses, and the lawyers involved.

  15. Hypocrisy and the Catholic Church go together like bacon and eggs, cookies and cream. Christ must be very proud of them.?

    There are so many layers to this despicable conduct so I just point out one. The life of a woman means nothing to the Church. A money judgement on the other hand is abhorrent like sin a d scandal used to be because like the money changers in the temple yard the church is now a politicized money making machine.

    Perhaps this argument is legally sound but it is morally bankrupt and their insistence that this poor man pay their legal fees is beyond immoral it is pure evil.

    It is time for allegedly religious corporations start paying taxes like the rest of us. End all religious tax exemptions and other benefits now!

  16. Somewhere in the New Testament, I have no doubt Jesus Christ counter-sued someone straight to bankruptcy.

  17. In the end, for the church, it all comes down to the money……. Their little sign that they have up; CATHOLIC HEALTH INITIATIVES, A spirit of innovation, a Legacy of Care….. that’s just another one of their cruel jokes.

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