Before April 15, 2010 – gay and lesbian couples were given no legal
rights in a hospital setting. If a partner was hospitalized for
pregnancy related complications, surrogate health issues or any medical
problem, partners were only allowed to visit the patient if the hospital
was willing to bend the rules and this only occurred on an individual
No legal rights were given to gay and lesbian couples in regards to hospitalization, medical care or medical decisions. On April 15, 2010 – President Barack Obama addressed this issue by releasing a statement regarding the status of same sex couples and hospital care. The statement changed the face of the medical community.
Gay and Lesbian Couples Now Have a Say in Visitation
According to the statement published on the White House website, hospitals receiving funding through the Medicaid and Medicare systems were to allow gay and lesbian patients the right to designate who could visit and make medical decisions on their behalf. The decision, while greatly affecting the gay and lesbian community was about more than the rights of people with specific sexual orientations.
In year’s part, widows or widowers could spend their final days in the hospital without the comfort or support of a friend when family members were not around or no longer living. Hospital rights were only extended to immediate family members and while some hospitals or floor nurses chose to bend the rules, these cases were not regulated giving all patients the same legal rights.
The declaration by President Obama does not cover private hospitals and thus gay and lesbian patients in private hospitals may not have the right to designate visitors. There are legally binding “Patient Bills of Right” adopted on state level, however that may impact the rights of all patients, even those in private hospitals. North Carolina, Delaware, Nebraska and Minnesota have all revised the Patient Bill of Rights to reflect the declaration made by President Obama.
Legal issues still exist for gay and lesbian couples. There remain battles to be fought on the path of equality. Giving a patient, whether a gay man or lesbian, the right to make their own personal visitation and health care choices bleeds into other aspects of legality and compassion. While some battles are won, others are being fought in courts across the United States and the world. Gay and lesbian couples do not have all the legal rights of heterosexual couples as of late, and should always review Patient Rights statements before voluntarily going into the hospital.