Hospital Visitation Rights as Human Rights

This just broke my heart into a million tiny little pieces:

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 would be allowed into Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center. By then, she could only say her final farewell as a priest performed the last rites on 39-year-old Lisa Marie Pond.

Jackson staffers 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. On Friday, two years after her partner’s death, Langbehn and her attorneys were in federal court, claiming emotional distress and negligence in a suit they filed last June.

The couple’s three adopted children were also refused by the hospital to be recognized as family.  And it is my understanding that this scenario, or one like it, happens to same-sex couples far too often.

I think, as one naturally does, difficult though it may be, of this happening to me.  I think of my husband being gravely ill and/or dying, and not being able to be with him.  I think of the horror of not knowing what was happening to him, and of not being able to tell him I love him and say goodbye one final time.

I think also of being the person who is ill and/or dying, and how terrifying and isolating it would feel to be left alone and without my husband.  Why is he not here?  Does he not even care?  Can I not tell him that I love him one last time, as he goes on to live life without me? Dying alone, I will admit, is one of my greatest fears.  And so my heart is not only broken for Janice Lanbehn and her children, but also for Lisa Marie Pond.

I think also that this is not only about those people who would get married if they could, or who have legal documents that go unrecognized because they belong to two people of the same sex, and don’t have the word “marriage” to back them up.  I think of everyone else who doesn’t have the word to back them up.  I think of long-term committed couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, who have chosen to not get married.  I think of couples who planned to get married but haven’t yet.  I think of groups of friends who are not romantically involved, but feel like family to one another.

I think of when, back in 2002, I had serious kidney trouble.  I was in excruciating pain and was living in Australia, away from my family.  I think of how the only person who meant anything to me there was my husband, who was “only” my boyfriend at the time.  I think of how he was there for me, how terrifying it was to be in such pain, to not know what was wrong with me, and to be in a place that I still did not fully understand.  And I think of the concept that I could have been forced to go through that alone, because someone working at the fucking hospital said that hey, we’re not legal family.  I think of how much more likely it would have been to happen if some bigots decided that our love was inherently sinful just based on who we were.

The hospital’s attorneys have argued for a dismissal of this lawsuit on the grounds that they have no  legal obligation to let a patient see visitors.

The ridiculous and irresponsible fucking arrogance of such a statement leaves me almost speechless.

How about, instead, they have no legal right to decide whether or not a patient spends their dying — or hell, even their entirely non-fatal but still sick, vulnerable and horribly frightening — moments with the ones they love?  How about the fact that while they seemingly love to play the role, the hospital is not fucking god.

I hope with all my heart that Langbehn wins her case.  She deserves that, at the very least.  But what I really hope for is a solution that doesn’t revolve around rights and respect only for those who have some sort of paperwork, or an ultimately stupid little world like marriage as support, no matter how equally accessible such things are.

No one deserves less dignity than I do just because I have a marriage license.

Janice Langbehn didn’t deserve to spend Lisa Marie Pond’s final moments with her because she had some paperwork, and because she could produce it and show it to everyone around her.  She deserved to spend her partner’s final moments with her because it was the only humane possible solution.  Because everyone deserves that much.

via the XX Factor

0 thoughts on “Hospital Visitation Rights as Human Rights

  1. Noble Savage

    I find it terrifying that hospitals are exhibiting so much control over their patients. They are not moral bastions and doctors are not gods, as you say. It makes me feel sick.

  2. E.M. Russell

    The emotional damage that results from same-sex marriages not being legal really takes away any credibility that the opponents of it have as being the “good guys.” They cause this much damage to people and they still think they have the moral high-ground?

  3. alexandra

    This actually happened at the hematology oncology clinic where I used to work. We got a new patient who was in a coma; his partner of lie, 20 years wasn’t allowed to see him due to his homophobic nephew, who was his next of kin. it was a really horrible situation. however, none of this was the doctor’s choice: everyone was really touched and saddened by the situation. HIPPA kind of stops them from taking action to help the patient, as does the threat of a lawsuit.

  4. OuyangDan

    No one deserves less dignity than I do just because I have a marriage license.

    Oh, Goddess that sums it up right there. Marriage does not make anything more or less valid.

    Like you, Cara, it is too easy to think of this scenario personally. W/ fibro I am getting medical care all the time, and it is always scary or painful or both. My husband is always there, and was long before we got married this past summer (which we wouldn’t have, if the military hadn’t forced our hand w/ his orders overseas, b/c we just didn’t feel the need). I can not imagine being alone going through just what I go through, let alone being scared and dying.

    Seriously, my heart just broke, and I hope that Langbehn wins this case. This is what hate does, it ruins and tears apart people’s lives.


  5. SunlessNick

    I think, as one naturally does, difficult though it may be, of this happening to me. I think of my husband being gravely ill and/or dying, and not being able to be with him. I think of the horror of not knowing what was happening to him, and of not being able to tell him I love him and say goodbye one final time.

    I think also of being the person who is ill and/or dying, and how terrifying and isolating it would feel to be left alone and without my husband.

    And I hate the fact that the public narrative has reduced this to an even level with people who simply get heebie-jeebies at the idea of the “wrong” two people that they’ll never meet being given that recognition. Like those two things are ever going be on the same plane of entitlement.

  6. karak

    I wish we could make a next-of-kin law, where I could just declare so-and-so has the power of attorney without having to marry them or be of relation to them. The fact that spouses and children are being left out makes a poignant case for gay marriage, but, frankly, I think we should get to choose who is with us in our dying moments without having to buy into any institutions of marriage and family unless we actually WANT to.

    And if we WANT to, no one should deny us.

    As for those attorneys– I wonder if they’ve ever spent hours in the ICU, biting their nails and watching the machines beep, or waited for a call at home, or laid in a bed sick and counting ceiling tiles and wishing that anyone was there with you in case this was your last moments. I hope they get a taste of what it’s like to be sick or dying and alone.

  7. lizvelrene

    This makes me worry too, about unmarried partners of all kinds. If I were dying, I would want my partner (who is opposite sex but not my husband) there over anyone else, including my parents. The privileging of marriage over everything else including an individual’s own wishes has to stop. I agree strongly that marriage rights should be extended towards gay couples and their children, but at the same time we’re reinforcing this tendency to force traditional marriage as the end-all goal. We should be able to declare as a part of our health proxy statements who should have visitation rights, whether that’s our lovers, our grandmothers or our best friends.

    I suddenly want to know what the policy is for the hospitals in my area and I don’t know how to find out. And is there somewhere we can complain about this terrible case?

  8. jaol

    They are not moral bastions and doctors are not gods, as you say.

    I agree that doctors are not gods, but I’d bet dollars to donuts the doctors did not make the decision to bar the woman from the room.

    99% of the time, this stuff is decided by hospital bureaucrats and CEOs and is handed down by fiat. Doctors are usually teh last people to know who is and who is not allowed access to a patient. Nursing supervisors control visitor access the vast majority of the time, not doctors.

  9. Ken

    How would this effect people, who are not couples, but have very close friends who will stand by or sit by them when they need it most, when they are sick or dying?

  10. Janice

    I will add one more comment. There IS a way to name WHOEVER you want an unmarried hetero partner, a neighbor, you sister as your medical surrogate – have an attorney draw it up in your state. don’t do it by a computer program – then it’s good in all states if it’s legal in yours and WE HAD THIS.. and I PROVIDED it to the hospital.. it said in the even that LISA could not make medical decision I WAS HER MEDICAL SURROGATE and they ignored it. We had done it all right, but somehow on that fateful day, I had the most insensitive people come in contact the children and I. So I speak out b/c I don’t want it to happen to anyone else – no matter how you define your family!

  11. theLP family

    Cara and others, thank you for reading our family’s story – and helping to make a difference.

    I’m the Janice from this story our blog is – I am humbled to see that even 2 years after lisa’s death people are keeping the discussion going.. this is NOT about gay rights but HUMAN rights. Lisa died alone, plain and simple and I hurt every day that I failed her. We were together 18yrs.

    Tonight, thanks to LAMBDA legal who took on our case, they brought together Jerry who received Lisa’s heart in organ donation and our family at a function. It was so amazing and gives me so much hope.. lisa is living on in him and he looks wonderful and he is the perfect keeper of her heart

    read about what a saint lisa was, how the kids are.. and follow the suit as it winds it ways through our justice system at our blog

  12. theLP family

    Also let me add, that there is a way to name someone, anyone as your medical surrogate.. some are called durable powers of attorneys, other’s health care proxy, but have them done by an actual attorney in your state of residence.. not where you will be going. That way you know they are legal and enforceable. We had those and they were given to the hospital but unfortunately they chose to ignore that Lisa had chosen me to make all decision and speak on her behalf in the even of incapacitation. You can name a neighbor, sister, unmarried spouse – whoever you want and even a back up incase the first person can’t be reach.. it’ means a tough discussion you need those people to know all your wishes about life support, organ donation – it will be attached to the document, but still please talk about it and get your documents done. We had everything done right and that is why when the hospital ignored me for 7 months when all i asked for was an apology, I went to LAMBDA legal. Thank you all


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