South Florida Blade weighs in

Law suit lies in legal limbo Two years after family tragedy, partner sues Jackson Memorial By JUAN CARLOS RODRIGUEZ FEB. 19, 2009 Wednesday, Feb. 18 marked the second anniversary of Lisa Pond’s death. Pond, 39, slipped out of consciousness alone in Jackson Memorial Hospital’s trauma unit in Miami while her partner of 17 years, Janice Langbehn, and three of the couple’s four adoptive children begged hospital staff for a chance to say a final goodbye. Langbehn waited in the hospital lobby, trying to prove to hospital nurses and doctors that, as a domestic partner, she had the legal authority to consent to medical procedures and be at her partner’s side. She finally got that chance eight hours later, with the help of the priest who administered last rites to Pond. Langbehn was told by a staff social worker that she was not allowed into Pond’s hospital room because she did not qualify as family, and she should not expect to get any information regarding Ponds’ condition because she was in “an anti-gay city and state.” The statement is a central part of the federal lawsuit Langbehn has filed against Miami-Dade’s Public Health Trust – the entity that runs Jackson Memorial Hospital. Represented by Lambda Legal, Lang- behn asserts that the hospital intentionally inflicted pain and suffering on her family by denying them the rights that other families get. County attorneys representing the trust are asking that the case be thrown out. At a hearing Feb. 6, attorneys for the Public Health Trust told US District Judge Adalberto Jordan to dismiss the case because that the hospital is not bound by law to allow patients—straight or gay—to see their loved ones. Langbehn’s charges, they said, are vague and trivial complaints without foundation. Jordan will decide whether the case will move forward. For Beth Littrell, senior Lambda Legal attorney, the county is “grasping at straws” to use legal technicalities to counter the humane and ethical right of family members, including same-sex life partners and domestic partners, to see a dying loved one. “There’s nothing vague about following hospital visitation standards. There’s nothing vague about treating patients and patients’ families with dignity in their final hours,” Littrell said. “[Jackson’s lawyers] are attempting to avoid liability by hiding behind technical arguments to avoid the obvious harm that they inflicted on this family.” The Langbehn case is the third case Lambda has argued regarding the rights of same sex couples in dire emergency room scenarios. In 2000 a Maryland jury decided in favor of the University of Maryland Hospital System against Jim Flanigan. a gay man whose partner Robert Daniel died in hospital care. Although the men were registered domestic partners in California, where they lived, hospital staff withheld any information or visitation rights to Flanigan until his dying partner’s family arrived more than 24 hours later. In December 2008, a Washington State Judge allowed Sharon Reed’s case to move forward against The University of Washington Medical Center and a nursing agency; Reed was not allowed to see her partner of 17 years, Jo Anne Ritchie, until Ritchie was in her final hours and was heavily medicated. Langbehn’s case, Littrell said, illustrates the worst-case scenario. The family had traveled from Washington to Miami to go on a cruise. Pond collapsed shortly after boarding the cruise ship and was rushed to Jackson. Littrell said that while the Langbehn case may not change new laws that deny same-sex couples marriage rights, it could have lasting effect to protect long-time partners. “It will just have a deterrent effect, because it will put hospitals on notice that they are liable if the fail to treat patients and families with appropriate care,” Littrell said. “We think that what happened to Janice and her family is unfair, unlawful, and outrageous.”

One thought on “South Florida Blade weighs in

  1. Ashley

    Thank you for this blog. I am currently in my last semester of my MSW program where my final project is on lack of rights for same-sex couples. I will be using your case to exemplify how basic human rights have not been given and hopefully educate my classmates on this topic. Thanks so much for putting this case out there. I want you to know it is educating a lot of people.

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