The Importance of Obama’s Order

President Obama has recently issued an executive order that requires that all hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid (which includes nearly every U.S. hospital) must accommodate a patient’s instructions to allow same-sex partners visit them in the hospital. While patients with health care powers of attorney (or medical directives as they are called in some states) already have this right legally, such instructions are not always followed, and many gay and lesbian pateints haven’t filled out such directives. This order should insure that all of those patients will have their wishes honored.

Even if the number of obstructionist hospitals may be small in number, the Executive Order is important in several respects. First, it applies “top down” pressure on those hospitals to do the right thing in the future, which should lead to greater compliance with these legal requirements. Second, it brings the human dimensions of this issue to the forefront — especially because of the personal call that President Obama made to the woman who was denied access to her dying partner in a Florida hospital. Third, it demonstrates that the President can indeed make change and help our community, in small ways and big ways, without waiting for Congress or the Supreme Court to take a stand. This is important in terms of political symbolism, far beyond the specifics of this one narrow ruling.

Hopefully there will be minimal backlash, and that this will open the door for broader change and more enlightened social policy from this administration!

One should still fill out the legal documents necessary to empower one’s partner to make medical decisions and have the right to hospital visitation — but hopefully, if this hasn’t been done, the Executive Order will provide the protection we all deserve.

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