Last night President Obama directed the Department of Health and Human Services to require all hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding — which means virtually every hospital in the United States — to afford visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians who are hospitalized. It is hard for me to believe that, in the year 2010 in America, there are hospitals that bar same-sex partners from visiting patients, but apparently there are still some such benighted institutions in the land. It is to President Obama’s great credit that he took action to end that practice.
If a hospital’s mission is to help sick people get better, how can they reconcile that purpose with a a policy that excludes a loved one who could provide emotional support and comfort to the patient? Common sense says that the visit of a loved one will make the hospital patient feel happier and less isolated and therefore quicker to feel better. Studies have supported that conclusion. Given that fact, hospitals should be welcoming any visitor who will facilitate the healing process, regardless of the nature of the visitor’s relationship with the patient or the hospital’s unrequested and unnecessary moral judgment on the propriety of that relationship.
It is too bad that the President of the United States had to issue instructions that will cause hospitals to simply focus on their mission of healing, because it says something unfortunate about some American hospitals. But, if a presidential edict was needed to implement basic fairness, I am glad President Obama supplied it.