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Lesbian fights for hospital visitation rights in Miami court – Breaking News – Dade – MiamiHerald.com

Lesbian fights for hospital visitation rights in Miami court

During the Capital City Pride 2007 event Sunday Janice Langbehn recounts the agonizing first hours she was not allowed to see Lisa Pond,her partner of 18 years as she lay dying of a brain aneurysm at Miami hospital.
FILE PHOTO: During the Capital City Pride 2007 event Sunday Janice Langbehn recounts the agonizing first hours she was not allowed to see Lisa Pond,her partner of 18 years as she lay dying of a brain aneurysm at Miami hospital. 

STEVE BLOOM / THE OLYMPIAN

LFIGUEROA@MIAMIHERALD.COM

As her partner of 17 years slipped into a coma, Janice Langbehn pleaded with doctors and anyone who would listen to let her into the woman’s hospital room.

Eight anguishing hours passed before Langbehn, a Lacey, Wash., social worker would be allowed in to the Jackson Memorial’s Ryder Trauma Center hospital quarters. By then it was just enough time to say her final farewell while standing next to a priest performing the last rites on 39-year-old Lisa Marie Pond.

Staff at Jackson advised Langbehn that she could not see Pond earlier because the hospital’s visitation policy in cases of emergency was limited to immediate family and spouses — not partners.

In Florida, same-sex marriages or partnerships are not recognized. Langbehn said a social worker told her Florida is an “anti-gay state.”

Langbehn turned to the courts for help. In June, she filed suit against the hospital, claiming negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

On Friday, Langbehn’s attorneys were back in Miami federal court to keep the case from being dismissed.

Jackson officials filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the hospital does not have an obligation to allow patients’ visitors.

Jackson Memorial spokeswoman Lorraine Nelson said the hospital’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

Langbehn’s supporters are livid.

”We are here to ensure that families get the respect they deserve at Jackson Memorial Hospital and to prevent Janice’s tragedy from happening to anyone else,” said Beth Littrell, an attorney for Lambda Legal, a national group that fights for the civil rights of gays. “This family deserves to have it’s day in court.”

The story of Pond’s medical problems began in February 2007 when she, Langbehn and their three adopted children were aboard a docked cruise ship docked in Miami. Pond suddenly collapsed from a heart attack and was rushed to the trauma center.

Though Langbehn had documents declaring her Lisa’s legal guardian and giving her the medical ”power of attorney,” JMH officials refused to recognize her or the kids as family.

Langbehn was not available for comment Friday, but in a 2007 interview with The Miami Herald she said, “Any family should have the right to hold their loved one’s hand in the last moments of life, and we were denied that.”

Gay-rights activists have long contended that same-sex couples should share the same rights afforded to straight couples.

During the November general elections, the issue of same-sex partnership rights came to a boil when an overwhelming majority of state voters approved amending the state Constitution to include a ban on same-sex marriages.

The practice was already outlawed, but adding it to the Constitution protected the law from being overturned by judges.

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