updated 7/18/2006 6:37:20 PM ET 2006-07-18T22:37:20

In what attorneys say is the first case of its kind since Connecticut legalized civil unions, a lesbian couple filed a medical malpractice lawsuit Tuesday claiming botched cancer treatments damaged their love life.

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Margaret Mueller and Charlotte Stacey are accusing two doctors of treating Mueller for ovarian cancer when she actually had cancer of the appendix. They contend Mueller underwent years of grueling chemotherapy while the cancer spread.

Married couples in personal injury cases commonly sue over damage to their love lives, or what is known as loss of consortium.

Joshua Koskoff, an attorney for the lesbian couple, said that Connecticut’s civil union law — which passed last year and gives gay couples many of the same rights as heterosexual ones — entitles gay partners to sue for loss of consortium.

“The victims of malpractice are rich and poor, gay and straight, Democrat and Republican,” Koskoff said. “If that’s the case, the law shouldn’t discriminate in the way it treats victims of malpractice.”

Attorneys for the doctors, Iris Wertheim and Isidore Tepler, said the two provided appropriate care for a complex illness. Eric Stockman, Wertheim’s lawyer, said he does not plan to challenge Stacey’s right to be added to the lawsuit.

The original lawsuit was filed earlier this year on Mueller’s behalf. The new lawsuit was amended in state court to seek unspecified damages on Stacey’s behalf as well.

Mueller and Stacey were domestic partners for 21 years and were joined in a civil union in November.

According to the couple, Mueller must use a colostomy bag, can barely even walk short distances, can no longer perform simple chores such as mowing the lawn and housekeeping.

After years of treatments, Mueller eventually got a second opinion last year by a doctor who told her she did not have ovarian cancer, according to the lawsuit. She immediately underwent a 12-hour operation to remove as much cancer as possible.

The couple said the painful treatments could have been avoided if the doctors read the original pathology report that correctly identified the cancer.

“I saw three-and-a-half years of Marge literally sleeping her life away,” Stacey said. “She’s fighting to stay alive.”

Democratic state Sen. Andrew McDonald said the case shows how the Connecticut civil union law was meant to work.

“Under the law, this is a no-brainer,” said McDonald, one of the law’s authors. “Without a doubt any couple who is joined in a civil union has exactly the same rights under our law as a married couple, including the right to maintain action in the courts for loss of consortium.”

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