President Obama mandated Thursday that hospitals extend visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians and allow same-sex couples to share medical power of attorney, perhaps the most significant step so far in his efforts to expand the rights of gay Americans. The president directed the Department of Health and Human Services to prohibit discrimination in hospital visitation in a memo that was e-mailed to reporters Thursday night while he was at a fundraiser in Miami.
Administration officials and gay activists, who have been quietly working together on the issue, said the new rule will affect any hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding, a move that covers the vast majority of the nation's health-care institutions. It is currently common policy in many hospitals that only those related by blood or marriage be allowed to visit patients.... Obama said hospitals should not be able to deny visitation privileges on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
"Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay," Obama wrote in the memo. Affected, he said, 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—unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated."
Something like this will probably happen again—bigots are hateful, obstinate, and stupid—but hopefully this move by the president means there will be consequences if and when it does. And I don't know if the White House did it on purpose, but the president is in Miami tonight and it was a hospital in Miami that barred Lisa Pond's partner of 18 years, Janice Langbehn, from her bedside as Pond lay dying from a brain aneurysm in 2007. Langbehn's lawsuit was tossed out and the hospital—which has since revised its visitation policies without admitting any wrongdoing—was never punished. Now it would be.
This is a very, very positive development.
UPDATE: These details weren't in the Washington Post story when it first went up, and when I first linked to it:
Officials said Obama had been moved by the story of a lesbian couple in Florida, Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, who were kept apart when Pond collapsed of a cerebral aneurysm in February 2007, dying hours later at a hospital without her partner and children by her side.
Obama called Langbehn on Thursday evening from Air Force One as he flew to Miami, White House officials said. In an interview, Langbehn praised the president for his actions.
"I kept saying it's not a gay right to hold someone's hand when they die, its a human right," she said, noting that she and Pond had been partners for almost 18 years. "Now to have the president call up and say he agrees with me, it's pretty amazing, and very humbling."