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Catholic hospital group apologizes for fetus lawsuit defense

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - A Catholic hospital group said on Monday it was "morally wrong" to contradict its church's teachings on the beginning of life when it argued fetuses are not people to defend itself against a wrongful death lawsuit in Colorado.

Catholic Health Initiatives said it will instead use other legal theories in the case.

The legal defense the hospital group has since disavowed stems from a malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit filed by Jeremy Stodghill in the 2006 deaths of his pregnant wife, Lori, and the couple's twin fetuses.

The hospital group received widespread criticism when it surfaced that its lawyers had successfully argued the claims on behalf of the unborn twins should be dismissed under a Colorado law that says fetuses do not have legal status. The argument contradicted the Roman Catholic church's longstanding teaching that life begins at conception.

The hospital group said in a statement on Monday that its lawyers were "morally wrong" to cite Colorado's so-called Wrongful Death Act in defending the lawsuit

"Although the argument was legally correct, recourse to an unjust law was morally wrong," the statement said.

The 31-year-old Lori Stodghill, who was seven months pregnant, collapsed at St. Thomas More Hospital & Medical Center in Canon City, Colorado, and died of a pulmonary embolism.

The facility is part of Catholic Health Initiatives, which operates hospitals in 17 states.

Stodghill's lawsuit claimed that physicians failed to make any effort to save the fetuses, who also perished, by performing an emergency cesarean section.

A trial court agreed with the hospital's argument and dismissed the lawsuit's claims on behalf of the fetuses. Jeremy Stodghill has appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which has not yet ruled on whether it will hear the case.

The hospital group said if the case is heard by the state's high court, its defense will center on "causation," or whether hospital personnel were negligent in their treatment of Lori Stodghill.

After they became aware of the lawsuit last month, Colorado's top three bishops vowed to review the case "to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church" were being followed by the hospital group.

In a separate statement issued on Monday, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan and Pueblo Bishop Fernando Isern said they were assured by the hospital group that the Catholic institution was not responsible for the deaths.

"Evidence indicates that (the hospital) undertook all possible efforts to save Lori Stodghill," the bishops said, adding that hospital staff "testified that the Stodghill children tragically died before medical care commenced, so an emergency C-section would not have saved them."

Jeremy Stodghill's attorney, Beth Krulewitch, said her client was disappointed in the statement from the bishops and the hospital group, which she called inaccurate.

"It does not appear to reflect a real investigation and does nothing to address the harm done to Jeremy Stodghill in this case," Krulewitch said.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Lisa Shumaker and Eric Walsh)

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