President Obama has made another controversial move today. He issued an executive order to the Department of Health and Human Services to end discrimination in hospital visitation. Here is an exerpt of what he had to say:
“Often, a widow or widower with no children is denied the support and comfort of a good friend. Members of religious orders are sometimes unable to choose someone other than an immediate family member to visit them and make medical decisions on their behalf. Also uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who 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.”
I’m conflicted on this. I’m very happy that, should something happen to me, I can make my own decision about who has the right to make decisions on my behalf and the hospital I’m in cannot override my choice. My partner will be allowed to visit me; hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid will not be allowed to limit my visitors to immediate family only. That has long been a contention with the gay community, and one I have always agreed with.
What I’m concerned about is the method through which Obama achieved this. His executive order, through checks and balances, can be overridden by either Congress or the Supreme court. It’s not easy, but it can be done. It is that very reason that Obama has refused to use the power of the executive order to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Maybe one issue is more heated than the other, but both are potential powderkegs and I don’t understand what his reasoning is for changing this universal rule without the approval of Congress, which would have been much more solid.
The power of the executive order is one that has long been controversial in and of itself. The president is capable of using this power for a myriad of things. Dwight D. Eisenhower used his executive power to forcibly desegregate schools. John F. Kennedy attempted to use his executive power to end race-based discrimination in employment and housing. Some small “holidays” or recognition days have been created by executive order. I don’t see a problem with the executive order per se, but it has been abused in the past – and in some cases, trying to do the right thing through this method has only resulted in more trouble.
Should I get into a serious vehicular collision or be shot in the head, there are certain relatives I would not want to have any right to make decisions for me. I should be allowed to choose who can be by my side. Should my partner ever be gravely injured, I would be absolutely inconsolable if her family were able to legally shut me out of her life. I cannot imagine standing outside the waiting room of an intensive care unit knowing that the one person I would give my last breath for is badly injured and I can’t get to her because her family never approved of our relationship and now they have the ability to kick me out of her life whether she likes it or not.
There are many theories about how this could end up working. Among them is that because there was no requirement in HIPAA that barred non-spouses and those not related by blood to visit in hospitals, executive order is perfectly permissable. For now, however, it’s nice to know that the hospital can’t kick our partners out in our moments of greatest vulnerability.
Let’s not forget, though, that this isn’t just about us. This is across the board for many different scenarios that have played out. Such policies about visitation rights have long been an issue for many different groups, gay and straight.
I’ll address the link to gay marriage later. Here’s a preview: I CALL BS!!!