Obama expands rights for all

I’m not sure how I managed to miss this story, but Obama has expanded visitation rights in hospitals that will primarily benefit gay couples.

The president directed the Department of Health and Human Services to prohibit discrimination in hospital visitation in a memo that was e-mailed to reporters Thursday night.

Administration officials and gay activists, who have been quietly working together on the issue, said the new rule, once in place, will affect any hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding, a move that covers the vast majority of the nation’s health care institutions.

While those who irrationally hate gays because they think homosexuality is all about sex (and that’s just icky!) are going to paint this as special rights for gays, it is an expansion of rights for all.

Obama’s memo to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius orders the development of new rules to ensure that hospitals “respect the rights of patients to designate visitors” and to choose the people who will make medical decisions on their behalf.

This is common sense. Even with legal documents in place, gays and some unmarried straight couples still face horrific discrimination in hospitals. Specifically, this recent memo is in response to the case of Lisa Pond and Janice Langbehn.

Ms. Pond had filed a living will, a binding legal document, that appointed Ms. Langbehn to make medical decisions for her should she become too ill to speak for herself.

But even after copies of that document were faxed to the Florida hospital where Ms. Pond was dying, nurses refused to allow Ms. Langbehn and the couple’s three children into the room.

It is difficult to imagine that a heterosexual couple — even an unmarried heterosexual couple with a similarly long-standing relationship — would be treated the same way.

In another case (from the same link), a couple had designated each other as the person in charge of medical decisions should the other become ill.

Like Ms. Pond, Ms. Ritchie had a living will that designated her partner to make medical decisions for her. But hospital officials wouldn’t provide Ms. Reed with any information on her partner’s condition. Without that information, she couldn’t possibly make informed medical decisions, as Ms. Ritchie had intended.

Things like this are the successes of bigoted voters who go to the ballot box thinking they’re protecting some institution. This isn’t about abstract social constructs. It is about human beings. This goes beyond the petty narrow-mindedness that pervades so many; the happiness of others is what matters. Equal rights for all will increase happiness while not affecting the currently privileged one bit.

What is so damned hard about this? Institutions matter only insofar as they protect people.