Personhood of Convenience: The Hypocrisy Behind Sanctity of Life


The Catholic Church is on record stating that life begins at conception That is the basis of their opposition to abortion in all circumstances.  It’s the basis on which they argue that Obamacare violates their (and their followers) religious freedoms (which of course trump any rights or freedoms anyone else may have.)

Catholic healthcare providers and hospitals, being the good Catholic institutions that they are, raised similar objections on abortion (and birth control.)

Regardless of whether we agree with them or not, Catholic organizations have been consistently, “pro-life” and have consistently argued that life always begins at conception.   Under that logic, a zygote or fetus should have all the rights that every other living person has under the constitution.  As a result, conservatives continue to push the inclusion of a “personhood” amendment in various state constitutions, and Paul Ryan continues to push for a federal version.

Sometimes, actions tells us just how deep a religious conviction in the sanctity of life really is.  It turns out that at least for one Catholic healthcare provider, that deeply held religious belief suddenly becomes less important when a few dollars are at stake.

This story began on New Years Day in  2006.  Lori Stodghill was 31-years-old and seven months pregnant with twins.  She went to St. Thomas More Hospital, suffering from nausea and shortness of breath.  Her obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, was on call that night – but never answered his pager.  Stodghill’s main artery to the lungs was clogged, resulting in a heart attack.  She died within an hour of arriving at the hospital, as did the twins – some time later.  Stodghill’s husband, Jeremy filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of the couples then 2-year-old daughter, Elizabeth and himself. Their lawyers argued that Stodges should have made it to the hospital or at least ordered the emergency room to perform an emergency c-section.

According to the Colorado Independent,  the lead defendant in the suit is Catholic Health Initiatives which owns Thomas More Hospital, along with 170 other health facilities in 17 states. Their mission statement is:

“…to nurture the healing ministry of the Church by bringing it new life, energy and viability in the 21st century.  Fidelity to the Gospel urges us to emphasize human dignity and social justice as we move toward the creation of healthier communities.”

However, Catholic Health Initiative’s fidelity to the Gospel is a relationship of convenience, especially when money is involved, as evidenced by CHI’s legal response in the Stodghill case.

…  the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.

So far, the courts have ruled in CHI’s favor.&#160, Colorado’s Supreme Court is deciding whether it will consider the case.

Within the context of law, CHI’s lawyer made a sound argument – one that proponents of women’s reproductive rights have made since conservative “pro lifers” have pushed for personhood amendments.

The thing that smells in this case is the hypocrisy.  On one hand, the “sanctity of life” matters when it comes to denying a woman access to reproductive health.  The women’s life is secondary to that of a zygot or a fetus in the name of religious freedom.  A woman’s dignity is secondary to that same religious freedom.  But, when a few dollars are at stake, suddenly these deeply held religious beliefs don’t matter.

One might think that the gospel, and all those deeply held religious values really are only wallet deep.


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