Expansion of Hospital Visitation and Decision-Making Rights for Gay and Lesbian Partners

On April 15, 2010, President Barack Obama issued a Memorandum to the Secretary of Health and Human Services instructing her to initiate rulemaking that would require hospitals participating in Medicare or Medicaid to provide gay and lesbians the same rights to visit with their hospitalized partners and make medical decisions on their behalf that other immediate family members enjoy.

The Memorandum stated that the rules should also prohibit participating hospitals from denying visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.  The President added that the rulemaking should take into account the need for hospitals to restrict visitation when medically appropriate, as well as the role of medical professionals in clinical decisions about patient care and treatment.

While the rules are also intended to benefit individuals such as widows or widowers with no children, whose only visitor may be a friend, and members of religious orders, the Presidential Memorandum describes gays and lesbians as “uniquely affected” by current hospital practices, under which they find themselves “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 also directed the Secretary to provide him, within 180 days, recommendations on additional actions the Department of Health and Human Services can take to address hospital visitation, medical decision making, and other health care issues that affect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender patients and their families.

This entry was written by George O’Brien.



Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.