Medical Humanity Extended To Gays

Whatever you think of gay marriage, civil unions, or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the military, one thing all compassionate human beings should agree on is that those in stress, discomfort, emergency or facing death benefit from the presence and companionship of loved ones.  President Obama took a small but significant step in that direction Thursday when he asked HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to use her rulemaking authority to expand hospital visitation rights to non-family members.

While the new rules would affect many who lie in hospitals awaiting surgery, recovering from illness or facing death, those who would most obviously benefit are gay Americans.  In making his public request of the HHS Secretary, Obama acknowledged as much when he wrote in his memorandum,

“uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives” but are “unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.”

To face fear and suffering and death is a personal trauma in the best of circumstances.  To face those emotional traumas alone when there are loved ones and friends willing to offer their presence and support, but who are denied access by antiquated rules, is inexcusable.  Those heartless rules, based more on administrative convenience than patient concern, will soon be a thing of the past.  Humanity and dignity will find their ways to hospitals across America if Secretary Sebelius complies with the President’s request.  And there is little doubt she will.

Long the subject of cultural and legal indignities, gay and lesbian Americans can look forward to having at least one indignity erased.  This act of compassion will not provide full rights to our gay and lesbian fellow citizens.  It will not allow them to marry or serve in our military without discrimination.  It will not prevent discrimination in the courts or the workplace.  It will not recognize them as a protected class to fully prevent discrimination. 

The road to equality for gays has been long, arduous and piecemeal.  Slowly they have chipped away at indignity and discrimination.  Laws that once made their private consensual conduct criminal are off the books.  Civil unions have been recognized by many states.  Some, but not all, are beginning to recognize rights to inheritance and inclusion in insurance policies.  DADT is under review. There have been steps, but no overarching recognition of the rights of equal citizenship.  This decision is another step toward the goal.  It is not the end of the struggle.  But it is decent and honorable, compassionate and dignified, and most of all it is right.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice.

  • Sorry tidbits. The intent is of course not to make you do extra work. I hope you understand my frustration; I work hard on issues like this, and for someone to say that it's all just silly and his condescention is beyond reproach due to the existence of one gay friend is kind of mind blowing (and exasperatingly common). Nonetheless, I do apologize. To you.

  • tidbits

    Ok, one comment deleted, others edited. Review of thread for others that cross the line finds many close calls. C'mon guys, I signed up for the moderation gig, I just hate having to exercise it...except on spammers.

    Please, restrain the personal nature of the responses. Think rotary engine...accept that you do not agree politically, but that even those who disagree can do so w/o getting personal.

    Thank you.

  • You're right -- that one gay friend totally makes up for your thinking gay rights is a silly panty-twisting issue distracting from the very, very important topic of luggage. Many apologies for being so very hysterical. You're practically a gay rights activist yourself, and I should have known that! I know you'll be welcome at my pride party.

    In all honesty, your comment is really, really funny, DLS. And a little sad.

  • DLS

    Roro,

    "I'm glad you have that one friend who is gay.  Simply having her and learning nothing from her really doesn't give you any street cred "

    This is not true (and is laughable on its face)-- you're making that up simply out of thin air, or are moved to do it because you're overreacting wildly, but don't let the truth hurt your story again...

    [Comment Edited by Moderator]

  • Absolutely, tidbits. Neither have I reason to question hir personal experience. I guess I was just trying to ask hir not to question those personal experiences of others, those who likely have more at stake in this particular fight. I also agree that much of the effect of this sort of edict is symbolic. I do hope it does make a difference in the everyday policies of hospitals, though.

  • "It is also not any kind of invalid excuse for overly emotional behavior."

    If you don't find emotion in being treated as less-than while you or your most dearly beloved is ill or injured, good for you. However, since you are one of the very, very few who feel no emotion at such situations, perhaps we'd best not decide whether it is worth considering based upon your personal lack of emotions. Again, you seem to be lacking the maturity to see that other people actually are different from you. Also, I'm glad you have that one friend who is gay. Simply having her and learning nothing from her really doesn't give you any street cred with those fighting for LGBT equality, just so you know. If she is passionate enough to do the marches and AIDS relief and all the rest that you've said she's done, I can promise you that she has emotion about her work. "What I warned about may surprise you someday, but it won't surprise me."

    Dearest DLS. Read what I wrote. I did not say that they were worthless topics, that you're wrong about their importance, that I'm closing my heart and mind to the possibility of what you said. I said that they have nothing to do with this thread, and therefore are entirely and utterly inappropriate to bring up here. This thread is actually about hospital visitation policies and its connection to the rights of gay couples. It is not about airline baggage.

  • DLS

    "Have you never had a loved one get sick, DLS?"

    Of course.  I also have a friend who has associated herself with the GBLT community in the DC metro area (in addition to rescuing feral animals and hosting abused former pets) who has given aid freely to friends and associates with AIDS, and so on.

    What I have written in no way leads anyone to suspect I have not, of course.  It is also not any kind of invalid excuse for overly emotional behavior.

    * * *

    "No, DLS."

    What I wrote addresses the "big picture," whether you're willing to admit it or not, or whether you understand it or not, whether you have the forethought to "look and think ahead" or not.  What I warned about may surprise you someday, but it won't surprise me.

  • tidbits

    roro,

    Strikes me that, even if DaGoat's anecdotal observations are accurate, and I have no reason to doubt that they are, it appears that other situations exist where that is not the case. Obama's memorandum to Sebelius serves two significant functions.

    The first is symbolic, to say [from the Office of the President] that to the extent it exists, this type of discrimination will no longer be permitted, i.e. I have heard your concerns and am taking action. That symbolism, albeit emotionally based, has real significance in the context of a group being discriminated against, not just as it applies to hospital visitation, but in a broader context as well.

    The second significant piece of the memorandum is to put a stop to actual visitation discrimination of the type you and Kathy have described. Even if a considerable majority of hospitals follow the procedures outlined by DzGoat through his experience, it is clearly not universal. This directive from the President provides that universality.

  • "It need not be an emotional issue"

    Have you never had a loved one get sick, DLS? Intellectual maturity involves the realization that there is more to life than cold, hard facts. Scratch that -- even cold, hard facts have emotion attached. Dealing with inherently emotional issues (love, family, cruelty, pain, etc all fall into this category) without emotion shows a lack of maturity, not an overabundance of it.

    "What I wrote addresses the "big picture""

    No, DLS. What you wrote addresses two subjects that, while interesting to discuss in the appropriate forum, are entirely without connection to this particular post.

    "The reason I said nothing about visitation rights themselves is because I see nothing wrong with reform."

    Ok, I understand now. You didn't have anything to say on the actual topic, so you decided to tell us all we're overly emotional to even be talking about the post, and then change the subject. Interesting strategy, I guess?

    "You weren't hoping and expecting me to say something critical about it instead, were you?"

    Nope. The only thing you ever have to say about gay rights in general is that it's not worth talking about. Perhaps I was hoping you'd join the conversation with the rest of us instead of trying to derail since you apparently have no opinion. (Heaven forbid you should just say that you agree with the proposed reform.)

    "using questionable and disturbing means"

    "Disturbing"? Why are you disturbed? It's not as though anyone's trying to hide the purpose of this edict, who it's meant to please, and who it will affect. I know this whole "equality" crap is just so much political posturing fluff to you, but that shows not only a lack of empathy, but also immaturity. "Put yourself in someone else's shoes" is something most people learn pretty early on.

  • Hi DaGoat -- I was out of pocket for the weekend, and I'm not sure if you're still following the thread, but I'll answer now anyway.

    "I would like to know what hospitals your friends had problems with since it is at odds with my experiences."

    I'd have to ask again, of course. One quick story involved a friend of mine, when he was in his late 20s. He'd been with his partner for about 3 years (living together), and he got a concussion. His family didn't approve of his "lifestyle", and instructed the front desk not to let the partner in under any circumstances. Even though my friend was conscious, the hospital wouldn't allow the partner in, because the family said no. This sort of thing happens often with inherentance too.

    I'd also like to point out to you, yet again, your wording in your recent comment. Because you haven't seen it, you don't think it's a problem, even though other people are telling you that it is, that they've experienced it.

    There was a terrible and tragic story on Bilerico this last weekend that made me think of this post. I'm not sure whether Obama's edict would have solved the issues involved, but the story is nonetheless a very stark reminder that separate is not equal, even in a state where domestic partnerships are by law mandated to carry the same privileges and responsibilities as marriage, and even when the involved parties have taken great steps to assure that their legal matters are dealt with.

    http://www.bilerico.com/2010/0...

  • DLS

    It need not be an emotional issue, and even where it is, intellectual maturity demands they be faced in a logical, grown-up manner instead.

    What I wrote addresses the "big picture" -- if it is outside the grasp of some, that's sad, and also ugly, as it implies it may be more easily and more likely exploited in the future as a result.

    The reason I said nothing about visitation rights themselves is because I see nothing wrong with reform. You weren't hoping and expecting me to say something critical about it instead, were you? (If so, talk about being on a hyper-hair-trigger, expecting as well as anticipating a conflict...)

    In the real world: What we see here is a "good" thing (Visitor Liberation) done for political reasons (GBLT sop) using questionable and disturbing means, that introduces other intelligent concerns (even if some don't care, or don't understand).

  • "I fear a lot of people are lost in their emotions, feeling good for the gay subjects of this action, while neglecting the obvious."

    First, this is an inherently emotional issue. Thinking that logic and emotion are mutually exclusive, or that emotion is an invalid way to order priorities is a mistake; it is a false dichotomy. Emotion is nothing to "fear".

    Second, neither of your numbered points have anything to do with the subject of this post. Do you have anything at all to say about Obama's announcement? How about anything having to do with visitation rights in hospitals? Gay rights?

  • DLS

    I fear a lot of people are lost in their emotions, feeling good for the gay subjects of this action, while neglecting the obvious.

    1. "Accepting Medicare or Medicaid" -- I've warned you that eventually, health care "reform" promises to be worse than the stream of conditions and demands accompanying federal highway funds. (It's a mere cleanup task to require all providers to accept Medicare or Medicaid soon.)

    2. As I wrote elsewhere (hopefully not to result in confusion or anger [sigh]), what if Obama were to outdo sleazoid Shumer, and issue an Executive Order requiring all airlines to accept carry-on baggage at no charge (and better still, with no weight or size limits)?

    Don't neglect the bigger more important things in the moment of feeling good for some people here.

  • kathykattenburg

    Would this woman's partner have been allowed to visit her if this memo were in effect? I don't see that she would unless she had been designated as a preferred visitor PRIOR to the aneurysm, otherwise the hospital reverts to the usual guidelines. Does the memo intend gay couples will spell things out prior to an event similar to living wills?

    DaGoat,

    There are a few points here. First of all, perhaps we should all keep in mind that the actual new rules have not been set up yet. Obama's memo directed Kathleen Sibelius to create those new rules.

    Having said that, my understanding of Obama's directive is that, under the new rules, hospitals that receive federal funds for Medicaid or Medicare will NOT be permitted to deny same-sex couples hospital visitation rights. Such hospitals will not be able to deny a request from a gay or lesbian individual (or an individual in an unmarried heterosexual relationship) to have his or her partner admitted to their hospital room, to their bedside, to visit, during designated visiting hours, like anyone else, whether instructions have been given in advance, or not.

    Obviously, the above assumes that the patient is conscious and alert, and yes, having an advanced medical directive is extremely important for circumstances in which that is not the case, but -- again, according to my understanding from the news coverage I have read -- hospitals have been known to deny visitation rights even when spelled out in an advance medical directive. These new rules will make it unlawful for them to do so, if they want to keep their Medicaid and Medicare funding.

    Family squabbles over who gets visitation or other administrative rights over a family member in hospital obviously do happen, and I don't know how the new rules would play in that circumstance. Even IN that circumstance, it might depend a lot on how complex the conflict was, whether there were conflicting written orders, etc.

    I'm going to go out on a limb and say I don't think the above situation is what obtains in most people's lives as far as being able to choose who visits you in the hospital goes. At any rate, one cannot control for every possible permutation.

    I don't disagree when you say this directive is a small bone. Of course, it is, because the obvious real solution to this problem is marriage equality, established by federal law. This is a less than ideal solution and it should be considered temporary, because the fight to give gay and lesbian couples the same right to marry that everyone else has should continue, and it will. But for now, this "small bone" is a very good thing.

  • $199537

    she had a sudden cerebral aneurysm, collapsed to the ground, lost consciousness, and was taken to the hospital, where she died within hours without her partner or their children having been allowed to be in the room where she died, at her bedside.

    If the hospital denied this woman's children the right to visit her, there is something more to the story that we're not hearing. Maybe they were trying to resuscitate her? I don't know, I'm just speculating. Hospitals are very inconsistent with visitors guidelines when patients are being actively resuscitated.

    Would this woman's partner have been allowed to visit her if this memo were in effect? I don't see that she would unless she had been designated as a preferred visitor PRIOR to the aneurysm, otherwise the hospital reverts to the usual guidelines. Does the memo intend gay couples will spell things out prior to an event similar to living wills?

    The question of decision making is also not solved. Often in this kind of situation you have family members and partners disagreeing on who should be medical power of attorney. This memo won't change that whether the couple is gay or straight. This problem can be solved by designating the medical POA ahead of time - you can put whoever you want as MPOA including your partner. Of course this was already the case before Obama's memo.

    If your read the memo carefully, gays are being thrown a very small bone here.

  • kathykattenburg

    I have never seen any kind of limitation on visitors imposed on patients who were alert and competent other than the ones imposed on everyone (visiting hours, ICU restrictions, age restrictions,etc).

    Well, DaGoat, in the case of the lesbian couple whose experience influenced Pres. Obama to issue this directive, the individual who was in the hospital was NOT alert and competent -- she had a sudden cerebral aneurysm, collapsed to the ground, lost consciousness, and was taken to the hospital, where she died within hours without her partner or their children having been allowed to be in the room where she died, at her bedside. How would you feel if your wife collapsed with a cerebral aneurysm and died without you ever being able to see her again? Well, you will never have to know how that feels (for which I'm glad), because neither you nor your wife would ever be turned away from each other's hospital bedside on grounds of not being "immediate family."

  • kathykattenburg

    Typically ICU type patients would be limited to visitors from the immediate family, and I don't see where Obama's memo changes that. He does state that visitation privileges not be limited on the basis of sexual orientation, but limiting visitors to immediate family has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

    Actually, yes it does, DaGoat. Many hospitals define "immediate family" as (married) husband or wife, and children, siblings, and parents. Gay and lesbian couples are often denied visitation rights and the right to make medical decisions for incapacitated partners because they are not married, but obviously the Catch-22 is that in the vast majority of states, same-sex couples CANNOT MARRY. Of course, heterosexual couples who are not married, very close, best friends, etc., are also often denied visitation rights, and these individuals will also be protected by Obama's directive.

  • $199537

    Roro I think you're reading things into what I wrote. I am not minimizing the problem, what I am saying is that the problems I have primarily seen will not be solved by this order from Obama. I would like to know what hospitals your friends had problems with since it is at odds with my experiences.

    I have never seen any kind of limitation on visitors imposed on patients who were alert and competent other than the ones imposed on everyone (visiting hours, ICU restrictions, age restrictions,etc). The problem is almost always with patients who are delirious, comatose, etc and I don't see how this order solves that at all.

  • "[I] have never seen one that refused to allow a visitor that an alert patient requested to see."

    That's awesome that your hospital didn't have policies like that. I know many folks who have had different experiences. Brushing it off as not a problem just because you haven't personally seen it doesn't do a whole lot to alleviate the terrible experiences others have had.

  • casualobserver

    Good critical eye there, Hawkeye (double-pun intended).

    I'm always impressed by those who dig below the headlines on their own.

  • co -- Maybe I can put a little perspective on this such that you might understand why "we're" making this into a "predominantly gay-oriented proclamation".

    The biggest difference between before and after will be for gay people. The proclamation of course affects straight people as well. However, for the majority of straight people, the closest family member is their spouse, and this person is also automatically given power of attorney (with no more work than that $25 license you speak of). For gay people in long term partnerships, their closest family members are *also* their partners, but these were specifically denied access to their loved ones bedsides in hospitals. Now, while there will be more flexibility for unmarried straight people and cohabitating couples (who could also spend that $25 if they needed to), for gay people, this entirely removes the inequality of not being able to have your closest family member in the hospital room.

  • $199537

    It seems like a few issues are being jumbled together. As CO notes the great majority of couples living together without being legally married are heterosexual.

    Over the past 25 years I have worked in several hospitals, including some Catholic hospitals, and have never seen one that refused to allow a visitor that an alert patient requested to see. The issue then is what to do if the patient is not of sound mind, comatose, etc. Typically ICU type patients would be limited to visitors from the immediate family, and I don't see where Obama's memo changes that. He does state that visitation privileges not be limited on the basis of sexual orientation, but limiting visitors to immediate family has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

    The issue is really what to with co-habitating couples, and I don't see how this will change. The other big issue is assigning power of attorney, and again I don't see how that changes. Generally power of attorney is determined with legal spouses first and other family next. I don't see how Obama's memo changes that. Here's a link to the actual memo (pdf alert):

    http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/20...

  • ordinarysparrow

    Thanks Tidbits...I find it astonishing for it to have taken so long for such a common sense and compassionate right.

  • JSpencer

    FYI, my previous comment was made before I saw your own.

  • JSpencer

    Right CO, that's what was on my mind too. The same issues brought up by this subject can apply just as well to straight couples who may have their own reasons for not choosing to get married.

  • tidbits

    CO,

    Your observation is correct. The reason this issue is framed in "gay rights" terms is that they have been the primary advocates for this change, though they are not alone. Senior advocates have also I believe [unresearched] supported this on behalf of elder Americans, particularly widows and widowers, who cohabitate unmarried for financial reasons.

  • casualobserver

    Yeah, kudos to Obama and all that stuff.

    However, like JSPencer, this sentence caught my eye.......While the new rules would affect many who lie in hospitals awaiting surgery, recovering from illness or facing death, those who would most obviously benefit are gay Americans.

    I wasn't aware that there are more gay couples living together in the US than there are heterosexual couples living together without the $25 license.

    Yet, we're making this into a predominantly gay-oriented proclamation.

  • JSpencer

    I applaud President Obama for taking this step. My closest, dearest friend and I live in different parts of the country and we have different paths that keep us from living together most of the time - except during most of the summer, but as we are close to being married to each other without actually being married, we believe the important trust and love we have for each other has to be recognized in a legal capacity; therefore we each have power of attorney for the other, as well as legal wills. Neither of us are LGBT but even a heterosexual pair without the benefit of marriage need to make sure their rights in the areas described in the post are protected.

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