Obama to Hospitals: Grant Visiting Rights to Gay Couples

By Andrew Moseman | April 16, 2010 9:26 am

Hospital emergencyLast night, President Obama issued a memo that will change hospital visitation rights around the country. The administration will draft new rules declaring that any hospital participating in the government’s Medicare and Medicaid programs—which is most of them—will no longer be allowed to bar visitors that patients desire to have access to them.

This has been a particular hardship for gay Americans, who have been turned away from visiting sick loved ones because of policies that allow visiting rights solely to spouses or family members. They aren’t the only ones, either, Obama argues. He cited widows or widowers without children, members of religious orders as examples of people who have been unable to choose the people they want to be at their side [Reuters].

The changes won’t take effect right away. The Department of Health and Human Services must draft the new rules, then put them in place and police them. But in addition to expanding visitation rights, the order also requires that documents granting power of attorney and healthcare proxies be honored, regardless of sexual orientation. The language could apply to unmarried heterosexual couples too [Los Angeles Times]. You can read Obama’s memo here.

The President was particularly inspired by the case of a Florida couple, Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond. When Pond suffered an aneurysm, Langbehn was denied visiting access at the hospital, despite the fact that she carried power-of-attorney and the couple had adopted four children. Pond died before Langbehn was allowed access. On Thursday night, Mr. Obama called her from Air Force One to say that he had been moved by her case. “I was so humbled that he would know Lisa’s name and know our story,” Ms. Langbehn said in a telephone interview. “He apologized for how we were treated. For the last three years, that’s what I’ve been asking the hospital to do” [The New York Times].

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Alan Barnard

    As someone writing from the UK, I am saddened by this, yet another example of, man’s inhumanity to man. How does this compare with prison visiting rights? What are the hospital authorities thinking?

  • scott

    The land of the free just now getting around to this?

  • Ken Chang

    Should’ve happened at least a decade ago.

  • Lucide

    The need to be special but normal – as in socially acceptable, has driven people to exclude others to raise their own stature, be it in politics, religion, personal interests, genetic and biological differences. That is why we have the word ‘race’, as said by Battlestar Galatica Admiral.

  • Mary Buatti Small

    This is a science story?

  • Cassandra

    “This is a science story?”

    Sociology is the science of studying society. Prejudice is a subject that falls under the heading of sociology, as well as psychology. The habit/policy of preventing GLBTQ people from visiting their spouses in the hospital is a matter of prejudice.

    So, yes, this is a science story.

  • Daniel J. Andrews

    Alan, Scott, Ken–fully agree. I am shocked and saddened to hear this was the case in the U.S. (I’m Canadian). I hope I never run into being barred from a hospital up here, but if someone I loved wanted me to visit them in the hospital then I would visit them regardless of hospital rules. If eventually arrested I’d make a very public (and possibly legal) spectacle to embarrass the officials (that works better in a small town, I suspect, than a big city).

  • scribbler

    Science would look at what is actually happening rather than picking this out as a means to champion a cause.

    What is actually happening is that hospitals sometimes prohibit all but “immediate family” from visitation. Since homosexual sex partners are not considered “immediate family” in many places, they are banned RIGHT ALONG WITH EVERYONE ELSE WHO IS BANNED.

    Having said that, I agree that the best way to handle this is to let the ill CHOOSE whom they wish to see them. The making of this into a homosexual rights campaign is only political…

  • http://radicalsforhappiness.blogspot.com/ Ted Keer

    How, exactly, is this a science story?

    I cancelled my subscription to Scientific American in the 1980’s when they started pushing “progressive” causes. I’m not a heterosexual myself. But I stopped buying the NY Times when Punch Sulzbuger instituted his one pro-gay article per section per day policy. I don’t need condescending science journalists looking out for what they think is in my interest, thank you.

    Please stick to science reporting.

    If I want politically correct pieties I’ll watch reruns of Boston Legal and Murphy Brown.

  • http://radicalsforhappiness.blogspot.com/ Ted Keer

    duplicate deleted

  • ryan

    are the hospitals using the health as a concern as in hiv or aids being spread or is it just about marriage or family member which everyone goes through gay or not? did the white house even ask the hospitals?

  • Pete

    “hiv or aids being spread” by hospital visits? I seriously hope you are joking and not just woefully un-informed.

  • Brian Too

    I have close friends and sometimes run into minor (so far not major) issues related to this. We are close as in ‘like a member of the family’. I wonder about our mechanisms for dealing with these situations sometimes. Are they really adequate for what the social relationships are between people?

    For instance, we ask people to declare their Personal Directive (DNR versus Resuscitate instructions and so forth). However we do not ask them to declare who is a trusted insider versus everyone else. Just getting the contact person/next of kin often isn’t sufficient.

    We’re talking about something that’s a little more important than who a person has accepted as a ‘Friend’ on Facebook, you know? However that’s moving in the direction of what I’m talking about even if it’s a relatively trivial example.

  • EJ

    Darn it, one reason I subscribe to this magazine is for pleasurable reading without the incursion of somebody’s politics. In the short time I have been a subscriber, I have seen more than one article championing (however worded) the gay cause. I am an opponent of any gay cause, but I don’t think a scientific magazine is the place to fight it out. What’s next, Creationism vs Darwinism? I understand that there are some serious problems cropping up for the theory of evolution.


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