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Dear Catholic hospital, either a foetus is a person or it isn't. You can't have it both ways...

Jeremy stands at the graves of his wife and sons.

In January 2006, 31-year-old Lori Stodghill died of a heart attack in the emergency room at St Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, Colorado.

Despite being paged multiple times by the hospital, Lori’s on-call obstetrician never arrived. Lori was 28 weeks pregnant with twin boys at the time.

And tragically, her unborn children died with her.

Lori’s husband, Jeremy Stodghill sued the hospital and its owner, Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) for malpractice and the wrongful deaths of his wife and sons.

Following two years of litigation, the Catholic hospital’s defense lawyers issued a truly astounding argument: that according to state law, an embryo is not a person until it is born alive.

One of the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church is that all human life – whether born or unborn – is sacred. And yet, the second-largest Catholic health provider in the United States has blatantly contradicted this doctrine during the wrongful death lawsuit that Jeremy Stodghill brought against them.

Jeremy Stodghill’s tattoo of his unborn sons’ footprints.

This baffling turnaround has seen the Catholic Church put a legal argument that a fetus should not be considered a person until it is actually born.

So, does the Catholic Church’s ‘foetus is a person’ position only apply when it doesn’t cost them any money?

Lori and Jeremy’s  twins had already died when they were extracted from their mother’s body, and opposing counsel argued that even with an emergency C-section they likely would not have survived. Ultimately, the court agreed with this, causing Mr Stodghill to lose his case. The hospital then counter-sued him for over $118,000 in legal fees.

Jeremy Stodghill wants his case to be heard by the Colorado Supreme Court.

On his chest, Jeremy Stodghill has a tattoo of the footprints of Samuel and Zachary, the twin boys he never met. “I didn’t even get to hold them. I have an autopsy picture. That’s all I’ve got,” he says.

Mr Stodghill – who believes a C-section might have saved the twins – and his attorneys are now seeking to have their case heard by the Colorado Supreme Court.

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The Catholic Hospital’s line of defense directly contradicts the well-known Catholic belief that all life is sacred from conception until natural death – yes, the same belief that guides their staunch opposition to abortion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church stipulates the following:

“#2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life”

“#2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.”

This statement also sits at odds with the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care” of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which guide facilities in addressing ethical questions including abortion and treatment of rape victims. All Catholic hospitals in the US are required to adhere to them.

Incredibly, the Colorado case comes only months after a pregnant woman died in an Irish hospital, having been denied a medical termination of her unborn child that could have saved her life.

Savita Halappanavar (left) , 17 weeks pregnant at the time, was informed by the doctors that they were legally unable to perform the termination because the foetus still had a heartbeat. “This is a Catholic country,” she was told.

Back in United States, the Stodghill case has not gone unnoticed in the Catholic community. The Catholic bishops of Colorado’s three dioceses responded to news of the lawsuit last week with a letter, stating they would perform a full review of the litigation “to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings” of the church.

Regardless of where you stand on religion, the hypocrisy in this case is staggering. How can the Catholic Church use their doctrine on respect for human life to oppose abortion, and yet refuse to recognise the rights of an unborn child?

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