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. The issue in the lawsuit is whether the law, as it is, imposes an actionable duty in favor of a particular plaintiff. Many of the comments seem to suggest that the religious convictions of the defendant should have some impact on how that issue is decided. I see that as a very dangerous road to go down.

  2. ‘ In the United States viability presently occurs at approximately 24 weeks of gestational age (Chervenak, L.B. McCullough; Textbook of Perinatal Medicine, 1998). ‘ ~
    people do not engage the services of both physicians and expectations of care at medical facilities to endure what would essentially occur if at home and without that contractual engagement. Inside a hospital, in the ER or other interior point of emergency, a C-section should have been performed ….

  3. raff,
    That user has some of the same properties as Brent did. About the same level of maturity.

  4. rafflaw, what do you call 500,000 lawyers chained together on the bottom of the ocean??? A GOOD START!

  5. OS,
    right you are about the church breaking the law repeatedly concerning the sexual predators on the payroll.

  6. Raff, you know more about this stuff than I do. I am assuming the law firm advised their client(s) the details of the defense they intended to use. If they did so, it makes the moral hypocrisy of the clients even more egregious. But on the other hand, I am not at all surprised. They have been deliberately concealing and misleading prosecutors and plaintiff’s lawyers for years regarding pedophelic members of the clergy.

  7. Bron,

    According to my first sourced link:

    Lori was suffering a cardiac arrest and had stopped breathing due to a pulmonary embolism caused by a blood clot that traveled from her leg to her lungs. Two of the risk factors for the deadly condition are pregnancy and obesity, and Lori was experiencing both.

    My post didn’t deal with any negligence issues. Maybe an emergency C-section could have save the twins, but there’s no way of knowing since it wasn’t even tried.

    I was more interested in the implications of the hypocrisy aspect of the story.

    Someone else could post on a different aspect of the story if they wanted to. 🙂

  8. OS,
    it is not the attorneys job to point out to a Church that their correct legal defense is abhorrent to the Church’s beliefs. It is no germane to the case or the attorney’s job. While I agree that the Church is a hypocritical organization, it is not any attorneys job to advise the church on religious issues.

  9. nal:

    can you give us some more information? A pulmonary embolism is pretty bad but it doesnt necessarily lead to death. Did they not treat her? Did they do something wrong during treatment? Were the children viable outside the womb? If she was less than about 6 months pregnant, there wouldnt be anything to do except keep her heart and lungs functioning until the babies were old enough to be viable.

    Bad things happen in hospitals all the time and people die, was this negligence? An obstetrician is not qualified to treat a pulmonary embolism and if the children werent going to survive, what could Staples do?


    “We must not confuse potentiality with actuality. An embryo is a potential human being. It can, granted the woman’s choice, develop into an infant. But what it actually is during the first trimester is a mass of relatively undifferentiated cells that exist as a part of a woman’s body. If we consider what it is rather than what it might become, we must acknowledge that the embryo under three months is something far more primitive than a frog or a fish. To compare it to an infant is ludicrous.

    If we are to accept the equation of the potential with the actual and call the embryo an “unborn child,” we could, with equal logic, call any adult an “undead corpse” and bury him alive or vivisect him for the instruction of medical students.

    That tiny growth, that mass of protoplasm, exists as a part of a woman’s body. It is not an independently existing, biologically formed organism, let alone a person. That which lives within the body of another can claim no right against its host. Rights belong only to individuals, not to collectives or to parts of an individual. (“Independent” does not mean self-supporting — a child who depends on its parents for food, shelter, and clothing, has rights because it is an actual, separate human being.)

    “Rights,” in Ayn Rand’s words, “do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born.”

    It is only on this base that we can support the woman’s political right to do what she chooses in this issue. No other person — not even her husband — has the right to dictate what she may do with her own body. That is a fundamental principle of freedom.”

  11. The hypocritical behavior is stark.

    One wonders how an ordinary individual’s mind works when he/she pays homage to such prelates.

  12. Many of these hospitals are religious in name only and the notion of their religious practices is more marketing strategy that it is true charity. The real sign of this is how they treat their employees. If they treat their employees no better than a faceless Corporate America does with its employees, (such as continually cutting pay, being mean to employees during their reviews, or other tricks that companies play to rule over their employees’ lives) then their true intentions are revealed.

  13. Bruce, when you have an emergency you go to the nearest/where your doctor is/expecting you.
    Cut your finger and need a few stitches then you have time to go hospital shopping.
    Pregnant, vomiting and out of breath is not a casual “Let’s see, what hospital should we pick? Do you think the one with the word Catholic in the name will treat us well or should we find a protestant one or university affiliated?”
    As for the doctor not being able to do more then the ER staff, I worked in an ER. There is more a doc can do then the staff. Maybe the embolus would have been seen on an xray for instance.
    It does not say when the doctor was called. Did he get there before the arrest and embolus?

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