Sadly, when I first read this:
my first reaction was suspicion rather than elation.
President Obama mandated Thursday that nearly all hospitals extend visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians and respect patients’ choices about who may make critical health-care decisions for them, perhaps the most significant step so far in his efforts to expand the rights of gay Americans.
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 while he was at a fundraiser in Miami.
As with any Obama policy or proposal you have to look for the loopholes. The first one is a biggie: While the proposed rule would apply to any hospital receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding (which is the vast majority of them) it would not apply to military or VA hospitals.
The next loophole is also huge:
Obama’s order will start a rule-making process at HHS that could take several months, officials said.
How long is “several months?” Remember when Obama ordered that Gitmo be closed in a year??
What exactly will these new rules say? How will “same-sex partners” be defined? How will this apply in states that don’t permit gay marriage or domestic partnerships? How will this affect someone who is rendered unconscious or incapacitated from a stroke or accident and didn’t predesignate their LGBT partner as a visitor or give them a medical power of attorney?
Without a properly executed medical power of attorney will state laws on next-of-kin still apply?
What about religious hospitals?
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.
I’m also suspicious of how the story about these proposed new rules was publicized. No speech, no formal announcement, just an emailed memo while Obama jets off to another fundraiser. Not exactly bold leadership by a “fierce advocate” of LGBT rights.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe strongly in equal rights for lesbians and gays and the end of discrimination against them. But I’m not ready to celebrate this announcement just yet.