President Barack Obama has instructed the Health and Human Services department to develop new rules for hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding.
The memorandum from Obama to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, made public late Thursday night, orders new rules that would ensure hospitals "respect the rights of patients to designate visitors."
Obama says the new rules should require that hospitals not deny visitation privileges on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
"Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay," Obama says in the memo.
Affected, he said, are "gay and lesbian American who 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."
Cue conservatives to start whining about "special rights for homosexuals," as if there is something extraordinary about visiting a loved one in the hospital or granting your life partner power of medical attorney. I'm glad the president took a stand on this issue.
I'm curious to see how the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reacts to this executive order. I don't know whether Catholic hospitals are more likely to have rules in place preventing visitation by gay or lesbian partners, but I would expect religious conservatives to complain about the government nullifying such rules. I wonder whether there is even grounds to challenge Obama's order in court, if hospitals could demonstrate that their visitation bans are grounded in religious principles.