(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama’s latest overture to the homosexual community – an executive order directing his Health and Human Services Department to issue new federal rules on hospital visitation and medical decision-making – is a “solution in search of a problem,” one conservative activist said.
The executive order, issued last Thursday, says hospitals that accept Medicaid and Medicare funding must respect the rights of patients to decide who visits them and who may make medical decisions on their behalf.
In his memorandum to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Obama said that homosexuals are particularly susceptible to discrimination: They 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,” he wrote.
But hospital officials and family advocacy groups say that federal and state laws already allow individuals to name whomever they want as a medical decision-maker; and most hospitals allow patients to have whatever visitors they wish. Visitor restrictions are normally used only to protect vulnerable patients and newborn babies.
“Frankly, I’d be surprised if you find any hospital that tells you they only allow family members to visit the patients,” Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, told CNSNews.com.
“I have no objection to people giving a health care proxy or a medical power of attorney to whomever they wish, including non-family members, including their homosexual partner,” Sprigg said. “That’s a private contractual arrangement that doesn’t require the redefinition of the word family or marriage.”
But, Sprigg said, there is a wider agenda that’s being pursued in the president’s executive order. Sprigg – who has called Obama’s executive order “a solution in search of a problem” – noted that homosexual activists have made exaggerated claims about hospital visitation and medical decision-making to buttress their argument in support of same-sex marriage.
Homosexual groups praised President Obama’s executive order. In a statement posted on his group’s Web site, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said, “Discrimination touches every facet of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including at times of crisis and illness, when we need our loved ones more than ever.”
But hospital officials contacted by CNSNews.com said visitor policies are intended to make sure that patients have the best care possible, including the support of their loved ones – be they blood relatives or not.
“We’ve always had very liberal visitations policies in place,” said Jim Lott, spokesman for the Hospital Association of Southern California. “Generally, anyone whom the patient designates as a family member or next of kin, we will treat them as such. That’s generally been the rule.”
Nate Llewellyn, spokesman for Advocate Health Care, which operates 11 hospitals in Chicago and two in outlying areas, said visitor guidelines already reflect an open-door policy.
“The policies, as written, basically give us some leeway to make decisions on a case-by-case basis, but overall, there are no restrictions that don’t impact critical care,” Llewellyn told CNSNews.com.
“As long as you know the name of the patient and claim a relationship -- and let’s say (the patient) is unconscious -- as long as there is a relationship claimed and you know their full name, you can visit. So the recent changes really won’t have any effect on our patients and their families or their, I guess we’ll call them significant others,” Llewellyn said.
Sprigg, who made hospital visits in his previous work as a pastor, said he’s never known hospitals to interfere with visitors – regardless of whether the visitors were related to the patient or not.
“I just don’t think that this is a very common problem,” he said. “I think ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you just walk into the hospital, you walk into the person’s room. Nobody stops you. People talk about this issue -- you would think there is airport level security surrounding hospitals in America. That’s just not true. The idea that you have to present ID or persuade them to let you in is just laughable,” Sprigg added.
Many hospitals, such as Allegan General Hospital in Allegan, Mich., have patients’ rights and responsibilities posted on their Web sites. Allegan’s Web site tells patients they have the “right to medical care free of discrimination on the basis of race, creed, religion, sexual preference, color, national origin, sex, age, economic status or handicap,” as well as “the right to prepare an ‘advance directive’ for medical treatment and to appoint a surrogate to make treatment decisions for you to the extent permitted by law.”
A spokeswoman for the Abrazo Health Care, which operates five hospitals in Arizona, said the only restrictions that apply to visitors are for patient protection, including controlling exposure to infection or security concerns for patients who have crime-related injuries.
“We are considerate of patient needs and understand the importance of loved ones as part of the patient experience and being together in the health-care setting,” Lisa Levi told CNSNews.com.
The Rev. Michael Orsi, chaplain and research fellow in law and religion at Ave Marie School of Law in Florida, told CNSNews.com that his work with AIDS patients in a New York City hospital in the 1980s impressed upon him the need for sick people to have the support of people who love them.
Even without President Obama’s executive order, patients have the right to choose who will be their medical proxy, unless a court rules in favor of one relationship over another, as was the case in Florida of Teri Schiavo, whose spouse was allowed to remove life support over the wishes her parents, who wanted to keep her alive.
“Whenever someone does a health care proxy, there is no stipulation that the person has to be a spouse of the opposite gender -- or a spouse at all,” Orsi said. “So with a health care proxy, you can appoint anyone that you trust to make those decisions. And so there is no law prohibiting that.”
Sprigg said everyone can agree that treating people who are ill or dying with compassion is a good idea – regardless of sexual orientation. But he said Obama’s memorandum is intended to do more.
“For the president of the United States to be issuing a memorandum on who can visit whom in hospitals illustrates the micromanagement of the nation’s health care system under this big government takeover that’s just been enacted,” Sprigg said.
“The ironic thing is, the content of the policy proposal in the president’s memorandum is really not offensive to me,” Sprigg said. “But the political context is that it’s pandering to the advocates of same-sex marriage who have been sort of exaggerating this as a problem for years.”