Fetuses aren't people, says Catholic hospital: Does argument contradict church doctrine?

Is a fetus a person? Colorado-based Catholic Health Initiatives, which operates 78 Catholic hospitals in seventeen states, is arguing in court that it's not, as explained in this week's cover story, "The Meaning of Life." Sued for wrongful death by a father whose pregnant wife died at a Catholic hospital in Canon City, Catholic Health Initiatives says it can't be held liable for the babies' deaths -- a position that appears to contradict the Catholic belief that life begins at conception.

Catholic Health Initiatives declined to comment on the lawsuit, as did the Diocese of Pueblo, the Colorado Catholic Conference and the Catholic Health Association of the United States. But answers to some questions about the intersection of religion and health care can be found in a guide published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services."

The most recent edition was released in November 2009 and includes an entire section on the beginning of life. To quote directly from the guide, its purpose is twofold: "first, to reaffirm the ethical standards of behavior in health care that flow from the Church's teaching about the dignity of the human person; second, to provide authoritative guidance on certain moral issues that face Catholic health care today."

Those issues most certainly involve care for pregnant women -- and their unborn children.

Read the guide below. Given what it says, do you think Catholic Health Initiatives' legal argument -- which is that a fetus is not a "person" under Colorado law -- is contradictory?

Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
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