US Catholic Faith in Real Life

An inconvenient truth: Catholic hospitals can't be selective in when to defend the rights of the unborn

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

UPDATE: Catholic Health Initiatives has backed down from their previous legal defense in this case, admitting that it was "morally wrong" in the face of widespread criticism after the case gained major media attention. .

Original post:
Something tragic happened in 2006 at St. Thomas More Hospital in Colorado: A 31-year-old woman, seven months pregnant with twins, died in the emergency room. And her two unborn children died along with her.

The circumstances surrounding their deaths led to the woman's husband filing a malpractice lawsuit against the Catholic hospital and its parent company, Catholic Health Initiatives. But here's where the story takes a surprising turn--Catholic Health's lawyers are arguing that there was really only one death in the case because the two unborn fetuses are not actually people. Yes, that's right, according to people representing a Catholic institution the unborn are not actually persons with legal rights.

There have been controversial calls made in life-or-death situations at Catholic hospitals, like the infamous 2009 case in Phoenix, that call into question the hospital's Catholic identity and its adherence to the Ethical and Religious Directives approved for Catholic health care institutions by the U.S. bishops. Sometimes those ethical questions delve into murky territory, but that's not the case here. All three patients died tragically, and now there are no split second decisions to be made. The hospital's lawyers are simply denying one of the church's most basic teachings--that life begins at conception, not birth--for the sake of saving some money in a lawsuit.

As the Colorado Independent writes, "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." And in an ironic twist, there will be a legal precedent set for the rights of the unborn here, but only if the Catholic institution comes out on the losing side of the case.

The story has been picking up steam in the mainstream media, and the Colorado bishops yesterday announced (likely due to pressure from the questions being raised by the media) that they will look into the case. But thus far, I've yet to see a major outcry from the pro-life movement. When a pregnancy was terminated at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, action against the hospital and its then-vice president, Mercy Sister Margaret Mary McBride, was swift and severe, and criticism was loud and strong. But when a Catholic institution's lawyers are denying fundamental church teaching in a court of law just to save their own hide, the response is slow and nearly silent.

Increased awareness of the Colorado case comes as thousands of pro-life supporters are gathered in Washington for the annual March for Life, calling for an end to all abortion in the United States. With the troops gathered, what better time could there be to rally them around this issue? If we truly believe our teaching on human life we must apply it in all cases, even when doing so would hurt one of our own Catholic institutions. And if we don't, what does that say about the strength of our convictions?

Image by Frenkieb cc via Flickr