Monday, February 11, 2013

Catholic Hospital: We Didn't Know About Legal Argument ...

Remember the Catholic hospital in Colorado that filed a brief in a malpractice lawsuit arguing that they can?t be held responsible for the death of a pregnant woman?s fetus because fetuses aren?t legally people? They?ve now admitted that was ?morally wrong,? but say they didn?t know about the argument.

Miguel De La Torre, a professor at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, noted that the church often argues for laws recognizing a fetus as a human being.

?If that legislation was to come up again, how could the Catholic Church argue we should protect the rights of a fetus?? he said.

Indeed, last week Colorado?s bishops met with executives at Catholic Healthcare Initiatives, a branch of the church that operates the hospital at the center of the case, to review how the lawsuit was handled. The two released separate statements Monday saying CHI executives had been unaware of the legal arguments and pledging to ?work for comprehensive change in Colorado?s law, so that the unborn may enjoy the same legal protections as other persons.?

But here?s the thing: They won on that argument.

Jeremy Stodghill sued the hospital, some doctors and Catholic Healthcare Initiatives, which owns the company that operates Thomas More. Attorneys for CHI in 2010 filed court papers asking a judge to dismiss the case because the plaintiffs couldn?t prove negligent care killed Lori Stodghill and her fetuses. They also argued that ?under Colorado law, a fetus is not a `person,? and Plaintiff?s claims for wrongful death must therefore be dismissed.?

The trial judge agreed, finding that previous state cases required a fetus to be ?born alive? to have a legal claim. An appellate court upheld the dismissal on other grounds. Stodghill?s attorneys are now asking the state Supreme Court to hear the case.

They now say they?ll stop using the argument, but what exactly does that mean? If the state supreme court takes the case, will the hospital concede the argument and agree to whatever damages? Will they ask that the case be remanded back to the first court to be considered without the conclusion they reached? I don?t know that they can do that. Colorado law is pretty clear on this. Even if the hospital disavows the argument, the law doesn?t change. Their argument was legally correct even if it was hypocritical.

And did they really not know about it? Initially, perhaps. Lawyers make the best argument they can for their clients and this argument was both correct and effective. And clients don?t always read legal briefs. But by the time two courts had ruled on the matter and agreed with that argument, the hospital damn sure knew about it and did nothing to withdraw it or prevent it from being used on appeal.


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