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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Says Hospital Can Deny Lesbian Visitation

(CN) - A federal judge in Miami dismissed a lawsuit by a lesbian who claimed she wasn't allowed to visit her dying partner in the hospital until right before she died.

Janice Langbehn claimed that staff at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami effectively blocked her from visiting her partner of 20 years on her deathbed, except to usher her in for last rites. Lisa Marie Pond, 39, collapsed on the deck of a cruise ship and was taken by ambulance to Jackson, where the admitting staff refused to take medical information from Langbehn.

Hospital staff ignored a power of attorney faxed to the trauma center, denied Langbehn the right to see Pond as her condition deteriorated, and failed to tell her that they moved Pond to intensive care, Langbehn claimed.

A social worker at the hospital allegedly told Langbehn not to expect anything, because they were in an "anti-gay city and state."

Langbehn sought damages for psychological trauma and emotional distress, which she claimed exacerbated her multiple sclerorsis symptoms.

U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled that the hospital staff was not legally bound to give Langbehn updates on Pond's condition or to let her visit Pond in intensive care.

In the judge's view, Langbehn had not been "denied the right to make any medical decision on behalf of Ms. Pond." Hospital staff consulted Langbehn about possible surgical options for Pond, the judge noted, and Langbehn herself admitted that she did not know what she would have done differently had she been given more details on her partner's condition.

The judge declined to impose a duty on hospital staff to provide updates to "third parties who would simply like to be kept informed." Jordan noted that trauma unit doctors can block visitor access to a patient in critical or terminal condition. These decisions are left to medical personnel, the judge said.

Though he acknowledged that the hospital staff had displayed a "lack of sensitivity" that caused Langbehn "needless distress," the judge ultimately dismissed the complaint.

"Unfortunately, no relief is available under Florida law for these failures," Jordan wrote.

A priest ushered in Langbehn for last rites and doctors allowed Langbehn to visit Pond in intensive care before she died, according to the ruling.

Langbehn and Pond had four adopted children together and had been committed life partners since 1987.

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