Langbehn v. Jackson Memorial Hospital – LGBT rights

When a loved one is in the hospital, you naturally want to be at the bedside. But what if the staff won’t allow it? LGBT people experience discrimination in many aspects of their lives, but it is perhaps at its worst during times of crisis.

That’s what Janice Langbehn, a social worker in Lacey, Wash., says she experienced when her partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond, who collapsed with an aneurysm during a Florida vacation and was taken to a Miami trauma centre. She died there, at age 39, as Ms. Langbehn tried in vain to persuade hospital officials to let her visit, along with the couple’s adopted children. She had this deep sense of failure for not being at Lisa’s bedside when she died. Shortly thereafter, a social worker with the hospital spoke to Ms. Langbehn and informed her that because she was in “an anti-gay state” she was not going to get to see her partner or be able to know her condition.4 The social worker also told Langbehn that, because it was a holiday weekend, she would not be able to get before a court to secure legal documentation in order to gain access to Ms. Pond. The case, is now the subject of a federal lawsuit in Florida, is being watched by gay rights groups, which say same-sex partners often report being excluded from a patient’s room because they aren’t “real” family members.

In her complaint, Ms. Langbehn asserted eight claims under Florida law – all arising out of alleged improper treatment by personnel at Ryder and Jackson Memorial during the ordeal. For the most part, Langbehn’s claims alleged that the healthcare facilities acted negligently in some respect or another – whether it failed to provide her access to Ms. Pond, failing to recognize Langbehn as Pond’s surrogate, or failing to furnish Langbehn with Pond’s medical condition or documentation. Each, it was alleged, resulted in Langbehn suffering emotional distress, exacerbation of her multiple sclerosis, trauma, nausea, etc.

The court agreed that doctors and hospitals owe a general duty to a patient to give her material information necessary for her to make an informed decision; this duty additionally, the court noted, extends to “a person who is available and is legally able to make medical decisions on the part of the patient” if the he or she is incompetent or unconscious.8 The court reasoned that Ms. Langbehn did make such determinations when she met with physicians to discuss the placement of a brain monitor on Ms. Pond as well as during the discussion regarding surgical options. Furthermore, the court went on to hold that this duty to provide such information does not extend to relatives, friends, or loved ones who do not have decision-making authority as to a patient’s medical treatment.

Even those friends or family who are concerned about someone receiving treatment in a hospital are not owed a duty, under Florida law, to receive medical status updates. The court dismissed all of Ms. Langbehn’s claims against Ryder and Jackson Memorial – although it admonished the healthcare facilities for their “lack of compassion” during a time of anguish and vulnerability. Unfortunately, the court noted, no relief was available under Florida law for the facilities’ failures. As a strictly legal matter, that may be true, the decision can still be appealed.  But as a moral matter, it is appalling.  Hospitals came into being because of human compassion for illness and suffering.  Whatever their legal obligations, preventing a woman from seeing her dying partner until the priest arrives to deliver Last Rites is a level of cruelty that should go down in the annals of depravity.  For the record, the hospital is Jackson Memorial, one of America’s finest medical facilities, a name that should also be recorded for posterity. As a result of the ongoing media attention the Committee for Fair Visitation at Jackson Memorial Hospital negotiated changes with the hospital regarding same-sex visitation. The committee consisted of partners throughout the LGBT Community including Lambda Legal, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and Gay And Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) among others. On April 13, 2010, Jackson Memorial Hospital in conjunction with the Committee announced significant changes to visitation policies regarding LGBT patients. In addition to the changes at Jackson Memorial Hospital, the Joint Commission published new guidelines addressing inclusion of LGBT patient and families in hospital visitation.

Aishwarya Says:

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