Obama Orders Hospital Visitation for LGBT Couples; Janice Langbehn Reacts

Last September, I wrote about Lisa Pond, a woman who was forced to die alone because the hospital she was taken to after collapsing on vacation wouldn’t let her 18-year partner or their children into the room, even though they had all the legal documents providing her partner the rights that straight married people take for granted.

Lisa Marie Pond 1967 - 2007
Lisa Marie Pond
1967 - 2007
It’s a tough story, and one people care a lot about. That post is by far the most linked, most visited, and most commented on this blog. And it’s no wonder; keeping people away from their loved ones as they breathe their last breath is something that we all know is wrong, even if U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan says it’s okay.

So it’s a relief to be able to say that starting now, under the direction of President Barack Obama, any hospital that receives federal funding (including Medicare and Medicaid) is required to allow people to designate visitors regardless of legal relationship. Here’s the money quote from the president’s memorandum:

It should be made clear that designated visitors, including individuals designated by legally valid advance directives (such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies), should enjoy visitation privileges that are no more restrictive than those that immediate family members enjoy. You should also provide that participating hospitals may not deny visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Here is the remainder of the presidential memorandum:

Janice Langbehn, Lisa’s partner, has been fighting for patient rights since Lisa’s death. Janice was on Anderson Cooper 360 Thursday night to give her reaction to the president’s action today, and said that President Obama actually called her this afternoon (from Air Force I, no less) before releasing the memorandum. Here’s the segment of the show:

[edit: Video has since been removed. Sorry.]

We owe Janice Langbehn such a debt of gratitude. Her tireless efforts on behalf of LGBT families was unquestionably instrumental to President Obama’s action Thursday.

This is a huge step forward in the pursuit of simple human decency. But at the risk of finding the dark cloud inside this silver lining, two points:

  1. This is a presidential memorandum, not an executive order. As we learned with last year’s memorandum on LGBT federal employee benefits (which haven’t yet materialized, by the way), the legal foundation for these new regulations disappears as soon as President Obama leaves office. A new memorandum by the next president will be necessary to ensure that these regulations stay in place.
  2. President Obama has made a habit of going after the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to LGBT rights. This is an easy sell that everyone can relate to, but the harder paradigm-shifting battles like repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act continue to languish, with the president actually arguing against civil rights in some cases.

But put that in your pocket for the moment. Thank you Mr. President for showing the compassion and reason, as well as the leadership, to keep families together at such difficult times in their lives.