Obama: Hospitals to Respect Gay Visitor Rights, Power of Attorney
After taking steps toward the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", President Obama yesterday gave orders to the U.S. Secretary of Health to issue new rules that would allow gay partners full hospital visiting rights.
In a memorandum released last night, it was noted that the White House-ssued rule changes will also make it easier for gay men and lesbians to make medical decisions on behalf of their partners.
According to the White House brief, the new rules would affect any hospital that participates in Medicaid or Medicare.
“Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindness and caring of a loved one at their sides,” Mr. Obama said in the memorandum, adding that the rules could also help widows and widowers who rely on friends and members of religious orders who care for one another.
Obama noted that gay men and lesbians are “uniquely affected,” as partners are often prevented from visiting their loved one even after decades within a committed relationship.
Richard Socarides, former adviser to President Clinton on gay rights issues, said that ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to better handle such situations made good on Obama's campaign pledges to the gay community.
Several states have tried to put an end to discrimination against same-sex couples and to widen the rights of them to be equal to other couples, and Obama is trying to accentuate and augment those efforts.
The rules will take time to draft and enact, but it is seen as a step in the right direction by the LGBT community.
David Smith, vice president of policy for the Human Rights Campaign, which worked with the White House to develop the memorandum, has said he considers this an "enormous" step forward for same-sex partners who may have a loved one in critical care.
A Case which moved the President
One of the cases which inspired the new rule changes was that of a same-sex couple whom the New York Times had profiled in a feature article in 2009. Janice Langbehn was partner to Lisa Pond, when Ms. Pond was stricken with a fatal brain aneurysm. To her horror, Ms. Langbehn was denied visiting rights by the Florida Medical Center treating Ms. Pond:
Although Ms. Langbehn had power of attorney and she and Ms. Pond were parents to four children they had adopted, the hospital refused for eight hours to allow her and the children to see Ms. Pond, her partner for 18 years. Ms. Pond died as Ms. Langbehn tried in vain to get to her side.
Represented by Lambda Legal, a gay legal advocacy group, Langbehn brought litigation against Jackson Memorial hospital in Miami, but lost the case.
President Obama stated that he had been very moved by the case.
This last move is part of Obama's making good on promises made to gay supporters during the presidential election campaign. Some have complained that in his first year, Obama was not a very strong advocate for the gay community.
Taking steps to make good on campaign pledges made to LGBT community
Many gay men and lesbians grew disenchanted with what they viewed as his foot-dragging on reversing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", the policy enacted under Clinton 17 years ago regarding gays serving in the U.S. military. The Obama White House has recently taken strong steps toward repeal.
The health memorandum was drafted so that the Obama Administration could better “help ensure that patients will be able to face difficult times in hospitals with compassion, dignity and respect,” a White House spokesman, Shin Inouye, said Thursday night.
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