April 16, 2010 at 1:13 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Obama mandates hospital rights for LGBT couples

President Obama said that '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.' (Photo courtesy of Democratic National Committee)

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.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Next week we’re taking them to the zoo! And the following week, we’re letting them have candy! And if they are really good, we may let them rent the movie of their own choice on Friday. Awwww, we are so proud of our gays. It’s almost like they are real people, too! :P

  • What about the other 1137 federal rights, protections, responsiblities that should be afforded us married people? This crummy action can be reversed by the next President just as easily as it was enacted today.

  • This is the first thing Obama has done that affects me as a gay person. I hope he can do more before November.

    Does anyone find it ironic that the very day protestors were marching with signs condemning Obama’s “socialism”, he was in Florida trying to get the government out of the space travel business and transferring that business to private industry?

    Does it strike you as odd that he was in Florida trying to get votes, as if anyone in Florida is going to vote Democratic under any condition?

  • I appreicate that President Obama has instructed Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to issue regs regarding hospital visits which I understand may take another 6 months or so to accomplish. it is something we in DC already have and so do many in the GLBT in some other jurisdictions. But it is importand and is something the President kept talking about when he discussed our issues during the campaign. Well it has only taken 16 months to issue the directive.

    But the reality here is that we will most likely be the fewest of the beneficiaries of this change in policy. There are many more widows and widowers who want their friends to be allowed in to see them. People who are straight but not married who want their partners rather than a family member to be with them. Priests and nuns who want someone from their order rather than a family member to be with them. The elderly who have no family left.

    So while I appreciate this order, and thank the President for it, the benefit will go to many more people than just the GLBT community so let’s not mistake it for something done just for us.

    What could be done just for us is pressing the Congress to pass ENDA, pressing the Congress to repeal DADT, saying he now supports same-sex marriage, pressing the Congress to repeal DOMA and first pressing them to at least pass a federal benefits bill for same-sex couples. These are the things the President can do and speak out on that will be directed squarely at us.

    Again I say thank you to the President for other policy changes that include benefits for the GLBT community but let’s not let those small things allow us to lose sight of the things that we still need the President to do and that the President said in the Campaign he wanted to do.

  • What’s frustrating is that the politics industry (and also lobbyists) is just like any other product-based or service-based sales organization. They just are NOT going to do all the things they COULD easily do right away. Product updates. New product alterations. Improvements. Fixes. Expansions. Etc. The longer they can PROMISE that they hear ya, and “we’re working on it”, the more job security they enjoy… and bigger and bigger their profits swell to.

    Yes, for politicians (the biggest capitalists that exist), it IS that orgasmic. Truly ejaculatory: bonuses AND residuals AND whatever else they can stuff in their bank acct? and their friends’ accts? Yep: Fenty is fighting those accusations, saying that he did NOT line the pockets of his college frats bro’s just because they were, uh… his frat bro’s. Right. If Fenty would do that, imagine all the things a frat bro would do for his bro if their frat was The Skull And Bones Society. But I Digress……

    New Product Updates – in this case, full equality under the law for LGBT folks – will continue to suffer from the needs of our elected officials – including Barney Frank et al – for job security and retirements in central america. Just look at Obama: he’ll point to all the baby steps he made, and say “See? Fierce Advocate! Sorry, I’m retired now.” I hate politics and I hate politicians. They degrade who we are and what we stand for as human beings.

    I vote for a new agenda.

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2020. All rights reserved.