One of my favorite cousins was at one time a young teenager studying to become the next organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. When he converted to another religion, that dream became an impossibility for him. He later became the organist at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City and is now organist for one of the Greek Orthodox communities in Seattle.
Several years ago he found himself in the most impossible of situations, suddenly in a hospital when someone he loved dearly unexpectedly took ill and was in danger of death. Because he was not legally considered to be family he was not allowed in the room or at the bedside of his dying loved one.
Cordell, like so many others, suffered the frustration and indignity of watching someone beloved die and being helpless to attend to them.
Thursday night President Barack Obama issued a memorandum to hospitals changing all that. Inspired by the circumstances of another Seattle-area woman, Janice Langbehn, who was similarly denied visitation rights in 2007 when her partner Lisa Pond was hospitalized in a Miami hospital after suffering an aneurysm on a cruise ship, the memo instructs all hospitals which participate in Medicare or Medicaid to "respect the rights of patients to designate visitors."
Although seen as a victory for gay and lesbian partners particularly who have often been subject to discrimination in hospital settings, it is not limited to those groups. According to the memo:
"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."
President Obama called Langbehn on Thursday shortly before issuing the White House memo. As she reported on her Facebook page, "At 4:32 PDT, President Obama called me about Lisa's tragic death and our inability to see her. . .The President was very gracious and apologized for what we went through. I thanked him for this legacy for our children."
David Smith of The Human Rights Campaign indicated the organization had been working with the administration for months to see Thursday's action realized.
The memo makes it possible for all who are hospitalized in U.S. hospitals participating in Medicare or Medicaid to designate their own visitors and health care surrogates in addition to or in the absence of next of kin.
It's too late for many who've suffered indignities in the past and the inability to be at the bedside of dying loved ones, too late for my cousin Cordell who still keenly feels that loss and that frustration many years later, too late for Janice Langbehn and her children. But it insures that what happened to them will never happen again to others who should be afforded the same rights as next of kin.
On the Web:
For Cordell. (photo taken at Inn at the Market, Seattle, Washington)
(top photo credit: legalout.com)