My wife and I were listening to “Handel on the Law” on our local radio station over the weekend. It’s not a show that we normally search for; it’s just happened to be on while we were driving. We didn’t hear the entire segment, but Bill Handel was talking about how a Catholic hospital in Colorado refused to pay damages after the death of pre-born twins. Catholic hospital officials maintained that according to the law the “fetuses” were not human and therefore there was no liability.
Handel immediately pointed out the hypocrisy. How could the Roman Catholic Church teach and preach that life begins at conception while maintaining that the twin babies in utero were not human beings?
Here’s the case in a nutshell:
“The case stems from a malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit filed by Jeremy Stodghill in the 2006 death of his seven-month pregnant wife Lori at a Catholic hospital in Canon City, Colorado. Her twin fetuses also died.
“Stodghill filed the suit against Colorado-based Catholic Health Initiatives, which operates hospitals in 14 states, claiming physicians made no effort to save the fetuses by performing a cesarean section.
“In its defense, counsel for the hospital said that under Colorado law, a fetus is not a person and that the twins likely would not have survived even with an emergency C-section.”
I don’t know Handel’s views on abortion. But as a lawyer, you have to argue both sides of a case if you’re going to be a successful lawyer. He saw a weak spot in the Catholic hospital’s argument. It’s possible that the parents chose the Catholic hospital because of its pro-life views. Therefore, they expected the doctors and hospital officials to do everything they could to save the mother and the pre-born babies. It was this expectation that led to the lawsuit.
It’s one thing to argue that everything possible was done in order to save the life of the mother and the two babies she was carrying. It’s another thing to say that under Colorado law a “fetus” is not a person.
There was a time when slavery was the law of the land. What if an abolitionist refused to free his slaves using the argument that there is nothing illegal about keeping slaves? Who would listen to his abolitionist views after he covered his slave-holding ways with such a hypocritical legal defense?
Can 7-month pre-born children survive and thrive outside the womb? The normal length of a pregnancy is around 40 weeks, although anything after 36 or 37 weeks is still considered full term.
While no doctor can be certain, healthy premature babies have been born at 32 weeks and earlier. One mother writes:
“My daughter was born at 30 weeks and is a happy, healthy one-year-old now. She was in the NICU for 9 weeks.”
I’ve always maintained that doctors should do everything they can to save the life of the mother and the baby. If in the process either the mother or the child dies, a doctor should be able to say, “We did everything possible to same them.”
The story has gotten a lot of attention. Colorado's top three bishops said they would review the case "to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church." Catholic Health Initiatives determined that it was "morally wrong" to go against the church's teachings on when life begins when it argued that pre-born babies are not human beings. "Although the argument was legally correct, recourse to an unjust law was morally wrong," a statement from Catholic Health Initiatives said.
The story reminds me of the 1982 Paul Newman film The Verdict.