First up from the God Machine this week is a terribly sad story about a woman named Lori Stodghill, whose family has brought a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital, which has taken an unexpected legal/political turn.
On New Year’s Day 2006, Stodghill, aged 31, was seven-months pregnant with twins, when she started to feel ill. She went to the emergency room at St. Thomas More hospital in Canon City, Colorado, and suffered a massive heart attack. Stodghill’s obstetrician, Dr. Pelham Staples, who was on call for emergencies that night at the hospital, never answered a page, and an hour after arriving, Stodghill died and the twins did not survive.
Jeremy Stodghill, Lori’s husband, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit, arguing that the doctor should have answered the page, should have instructed hospital staff to perform an emergency C-section, and could have tried to save the twins. And as Amanda Marcotte noted, that’s where the story takes a politically charged turn.
The hospital’s defense, so far successful, is to claim that because the twins were fetuses and not people, this can’t legally be viewed as a wrongful-death situation.
Of course, the problem is that the hospital is run by Catholic Health Initiatives—Catholic, as in that religion whose leadership routinely claims that not only are fetuses people, but so are embryos, zygotes, and fertilized eggs. That claim is used to turn women into sacrificial lambs for the faith, denying them not just elective abortions but telling them that it’s not OK to terminate pregnancies where there’s no chance of producing a live baby. Women who go to Catholic hospitals in these situations have been denied procedures to save their fertility or even their lives. But, as this lawsuit shows, the passionate belief that anything post-fertilization is a “person” evaporates the second it stops being useful as a way to oppress women (and the second it starts possibly costing the Catholic hospital money).
St. Thomas More hospital is now facing criticism from the right for maintaining malleable principles. “There’s a difference between being legal and being right,” Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said. “Either a fetus is a person or it’s not.” Local Roman Catholic Bishops have promised to review the case.
In this meantime, the Catholic hospital and its lawyers maintain that the twins were not yet people, and so far, courts have agreed – a state district court and an appeals court have sided with the hospital. The case is currently pending at the Colorado Supreme Court.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* As the debate over reducing gun violence continues, it appears many of the religious right movement’s leading figures and organizations are siding with the NRA against any new laws or restrictions on firearm ownership (thanks to reader R.P for the tip).
* The religious right was also deeply unhappy with the Pentagon’s decision to lift the ban on women serving in military combat roles.
* The New York Times reported this week on the role of American evangelical missionaries working in Uganda on anti-gay campaigns. The piece featured footage from the new Roger Ross Williams documentary on the subject.
* New public opinion research from the Barna Group found that 66 percent of Americans believe no one set of religious values should dominate in the U.S. On the other hand, 23 percent believe “traditional Judeo-Christian values” should be given preference over competing faiths, and among evangelical Christians, the number rises to 54 percent.
* Tragic: “Fifteen years before the clergy sex abuse scandal came to light, Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and a top advisor plotted to conceal child molestation by priests from law enforcement, including keeping them out of California to avoid prosecution, according to internal Catholic church records released Monday” (thanks to reader T.C. for the heads-up).