Thursday, April 15, 2010

Another Step Towards Equality

A guest post from Rosalie Ray '10

In a memo today to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama mandated that hospitals allow visitation rights to same-sex partners and families, perhaps his biggest statement of support for the gay rights movement yet. The memo also stated that same-sex couples will be allowed to share medical powers of attorney. Obama’s memo will apply to any hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding, a vast majority of the nation’s hospitals

Entirely coincidentally, today was also the day of Queer Care, a forum at Smith about queer health from the perspective of doctors and patients. The subject of ensuring visitation rights and medical powers of attorney was a major topic at the panel. Patricia Robinson, MD advised students to draft powers of attorney and carry them on their person at all times. With the new ruling, those power of attorney must be followed, whereas in the past hospitals have refused to honor them.

Dr. Robinson shared a particularly heart-wrenching example of this at the forum. In February 2007, a lesbian couple and three of their four children were boarding a cruise ship in Jacksonville, Florida when one of the couple suffered a major stroke. She was rushed to the hospital and the rest of her family disembarked to follow her to hospital. When they arrived, they were denied entry, and were explicitly told that they were in “an anti-gay city and state.” The hospital did not acknowledge the power of attorney faxed to the hospital. The woman ended up dying the next day, and the partner was only admitted for the last rights ceremony, five minutes before her partner’s passing.

These scenarios have been only too common across the country. The president’s memo, which also covers the rights of widows and widowers to receive visits from close friends, and members of certain religious orders to grant powers of attorney to non-relatives, will end such indignities. It is the latest in a number of advances for the gay community during President Obama’s term, though there is still more to fight for.

The Washington Post article on the topic quotes an unnamed activist: “The General Accounting Office has identified 1,138 instances in federal law where marriage is important. We've knocked off one of them.”