Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hospital visitation and health care decisionmaking autonomy for EVERYONE

Wisconsin may be poised to go down the same road Maryland choose last year -- the conflation of recognition of same-sex couples with the needs all people have, especially LGBT people estranged from their families of origin, to hospital visits from loved ones and medical decisionmaking by the person who knows them best. (Even Obama got it wrong in his acceptance speech). And Wisconsin is actually getting it worse; they are making couples register as domestic partners to get rights that all human beings deserve.

It seems that whenever a state passes anything with the phrase "domestic partners" for same-sex couples, that's supposed to count as a gay rights win. But look at what Wisconsin actually plans to do. The couple must be same-sex only and must live together. If they register, then they can visit each other in the hospital and make medical decisions for each other.

What is wrong with this picture? Ask my 60+ year old friend in Maryland, who is single yet cares as passionately as her coupled friends about who gets to visit her and make health decisions if she can't. And she's not even estranged from her closest living relative -- a sister 2500 miles away. Think about the gay people who move to gay-friendly areas, away from families of origin. I care that the people they consider family be able to visit them in the hospital. I care that their wishes about a surrogate health-care decisionmaker be upheld.

There ARE answers. A free, easy to use, highly publicized advance directive registry. There are models in gay-unfriendly states, like Idaho, and they protect everyone. How about a law that requires hospitals to ask who you want to visit when you've admitted? It won't help emergency admissions. But the people listed in the advance directive registry should be admitted. And a "close friend" category would help, and I didn't make up that category. Many surrogate health care decision making statutes already list "close friends" among those who can make decisions. At least when no one else is at the hospital, when a person will be without visitors, "close friends" should be allowed.

I hate to put a damper on the celebrations in Wisconsin. I just think it's wrong to conflate recognition of same-sex couples with the basic human right to health care decisionmaking by the person we choose and the chance to be surrounded by loved ones in our darkest hours.

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