The White House on Thursday unveiled a memorandum requiring most hospitals to offer hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples.
The memo, signed by President Obama and issued to the Department of Health & Human Services, mandates that all hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds allow LGBT people to designate their partner as visitors.
Additionally, the memo requires these hospitals allow patients to designate a same-sex partner as someone who can make medical decisions for them in the event of an emergency. The directive also requires HHS to provide recommendations, within 180 days, on other actions the department can take “or other health care issues that affect LGBT patients and their families.”
In the memo, Obama says he’s issuing the guidance because the failure to have same-sex couples’ wishes respected “concerning who may visit them or make medical decisions on their behalf has real consequences.”
“And it means that all too often, people are made to suffer or even to pass away alone, denied the comfort of companionship in their final moments while a loved one is left worrying and pacing down the hall,” says the memo.
But memo also says it’s not intended to create any right of benefit “enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.”
In a statement, the Human Rights Campaign praised Obama for issuing the guidance and said it was inspired by a New York Times profile on Lisa Pond and Janice Langbehn.
According to HRC, Langbehn and her partner’s children were kept away from Pond’s bedside as she lay dying, even though Pond had a medical directive. After Pond’s death, Lambda Legal represented Langbehn in a later lawsuit against Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and worked with the hospital to revise its policies.
The HRC statement says the organization worked with the White House and HHS “in support of the memorandum.”
“No one should experience what befell the Pond-Langbehn family, and the president’s action today will help ensure that the indignities Janice and her children faced do not happen to another family,” Joe Solmonse, HRC’s president, said in a statement.
Also praising the president’s move was Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only out lesbian in Congress, who said the measure “follows the lead of many states and makes a strong statement about who we are as a nation and what we value.”
“No one should face the distress of lying ill or injured in a hospital bed with the loved one you designate barred from your bedside for any other than a compelling medical reason,” she said. “For too long, such access has been arbitrarily denied many individuals, most especially to gay and lesbian Americans.”
Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, also lauded the president’s move in a statement. She noted that she was with Langbehn and her family during the death of her partner.
Chrisler said it’s past time for same-sex couples to “have the very basic and simple right to hold their partner’s hand at the hospital bedside.”
“I am grateful the president recognizes that this is a vital step in helping protect LGBT families in a great time of need,” she said.