Friday, April 16, 2010

A Phone Call

I have been following the adventures of a reluctant activist, my college friend Janice. When her wife Lisa was dying in a Miami hospital in 2007, the hospital denied Janice and Janice and Lisa's children visitation because the hospital said they weren't Lisa's next of kin. Janice and the kids filed a suit against the hospital, which was recently dismissed because there's no law requiring respect for families in Florida, and Janice has since found herself behind podiums at LGBT events all over the country, speaking about equal rights.

Yesterday I was looking around and found this story:
April 15, 2010

President Obama is ordering hospitals to extend visitation rights to whomever a patient designates, including same-sex partners, tying the requirement to federal funding for Medicare and Medicaid.

"Gay and lesbian Americans are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they have spent decades of their lives -- unable to be there for the person they love," Obama said in a presidential memorandum.

The new visitation policy will apply to more than just same-sex partners. Under the order, patients can designate anyone -- a friend or a distant relative -- to be a surrogate decision-maker.

Hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding will be required to comply.

Gay and lesbian groups have been fighting for years to get hospital visitation rights, which vary by state.

"One person in a hospital can make a huge difference," said Dr. Jason Schneider, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. "So I think this directive gives weight to the importance of recognizing the variety and the breadth of how people define families."

I emailed Janice and asked if she had heard about this - assuming that she had, but just in case she hadn't. This order, if it had existed three years ago, would have covered Janice and her family. This is the email I received back from Janice: "Oh yes dear. The president called me from air force one as he was issuing the memo."

I must admit that there is no part of that sentence that I do not find totally glamorous. But the really great news is that now the law is on the side of all kinds of families.

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