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Friday, April 16, 2010

Obama Orders Hospitals to Respect the Gays

Huh.  Didn't know he could do it that easily, but here's the WaPo story on last night's Presidential memo:
President Obama mandated Thursday that nearly all hospitals extend visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians and respect patients' choices about who may make critical health-care decisions for them, 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. Obama's order will start a rule-making process at HHS that could take several months, officials said.

Hospitals often bar visitors who are not related to an incapacitated patient by blood or marriage, and gay rights activists say many do not respect same-sex couples' efforts to designate a partner to make medical decisions for them if they are seriously ill or injured. "Discrimination touches every facet of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including at times of crisis and illness, when we need our loved ones with us more than ever," Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement praising the president's decision.

Obama's mandate is the latest attempt by his administration to advance the agenda of a constituency that strongly supported his presidential campaign. In his first 15 months in office, he has hailed the passage of hate crime legislation and held the first Gay Pride Day celebration at the White House. Last month, Obama's top military and defense officials testified before Congress in favor of repealing of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the armed forces. . .

The new rules will not apply only to gays. They also will affect widows and widowers who have been unable to receive visits from a friend or companion. And they would allow members of some religious orders to designate someone other than a family member to make medical decisions.

"The General Accounting Office has identified 1,138 instances in federal law where marriage is important," said one gay rights activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity before the White House formally announced the directive. "We've knocked off one of them."
Full text of the directive is here.  Also, the President did a very touching thing:
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."
Well I don't know about you guys, but the President's stock just rose about a thousand points with me.  I'm going to write and tell him so.

Thank you, Mr. President.


Heretic Tom said...

Like you, Russ, my reaction was "What? He can do that?" Then it quickly became, "What took him so darn long? And why doesn't he go all the way?"

I'm grateful, but still frustrated. That gives us un-married couples a few more of the 1138 rights we don't share with married people. We've still got a long way to go.

Russ Manley said...

I dunno, Tom, maybe his legal beagles just now figured out that it could be done that way. Whatever, I'm very grateful for this very important action on his part.

Yes, still a long ways to go, but this is a big step forward. The more little laws in our favor, the easier it will eventually be to pass the big ones, as I see it.

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