Friday, April 16, 2010

Obama: equal hospital visitation rights for same-sex partners

The landmark decision will apply to almost all medical institutions in the country and will prohibit discrimination in hospital visits.

Barack Obama issued yesterday a Presidential statement that will extend hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners. Patients will also be free to choose whoever they want as next-of-kin in case of medical emergencies or medical decisions.

In the US, it is common for hospitals to bar visitors who are not related to patients through either blood or marriage.

The decision was inspired in part by the case of Janice Langbehn, who was kept from seeing her partner, Lisa Pond, as she slipped into a coma. Last September a federal judge rejected Langbehn's lawsuit against Florida's Jackson Memorial Hospital, saying there was no law requiring the staff to grant Langbehn access to Pond's bedside.

In a memo released yesterday (pdf), the President said that gay and lesbian Americans are "uniquely affected" by relatives-only policies at hospitals. He added that they "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".

The President's move was hailed as a major step toward fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

American pro-LGBT rights group Human Rights Campaign saluted Obama's decision. "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", was the comment from HRC President Joe Solmonese.

Right-wing Christian group Family Research Council criticised Obama's move. According to one of the group's leaders, Peter Sprigg, the new rule "undermines the definition of marriage" and "clearly constitutes pandering to a radical special interest group".

No surprises there, from a group whose mission statement says: "Family Research Council believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed".

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