The President, in an extremely positive development for LGBT families, has directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that hospitals participating in Medicaid or Medicare will allow patients to designate who may visit them as well as name their primary caretaker and decision maker. Countless tragedies have occurred because of denial of access or ability to decide on the health of a loved one because the hospital would only recognize the rights of a blood relative.
Now some of you may be shocked to learn that if Ledcat were transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital, I could be denied access to her bedside — denied input on her treatment — because we are not legally married. Even with the paperwork, who needs the stress of stopping to find paperwork when you are in the midst of a medical crisis? What if you can't find it quickly enough? What if you have to stop to explain it or review it or defend it while your loved one is calling for you from another room? What if your partner's family isn't particularly fond of you and plays the blood relation trump card?
What if? What if? What if? This is a big fear for me. Ledcat and I have pretty good relationships with our mutual in-laws, but there's always the what if.
Pennsylvania law does not specifically provide for a partner to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated same-sex partner, but, “an adult who has knowledge of the principal's preferences and values…” is among those listed. Contact must be attempted with at least five individuals before a partner would have authority. § 5461.
An adult may appoint his or her partner to make health care decisions on his or her behalf. A valid health care power of attorney must identify the principal, appoint the health care agent and declare that the principal authorizes the health care agent to make health care decisions on behalf of the principal. § 5453.
Citation: Health Care; Health Care Agents and Representatives: 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 5451 to 5465
Solutions? Pittsburgh Pride has one of them and a very concrete solution. It is an ACLU Seminar that shows you how to address this very issue. We attended last year and I think it was one of the best events I've ever attended. The problem is that setting up a domestic partnership legal agreement is expensive. Heck, getting a Pittsburgh recongized domestic partnership listing in the registry can be out of reach for working class folks. So the seminar is a great “how to” step, but we must press on for full equality.
This is a step forward, but we must also remember that a Presidential memorandum may expire upon the end of his term. Its legal status is not 100% clear.
Another concrete step is to contact your state rep and explain why this needs to be addressed. Share your real story.
Our families, especially yours, deserve your action. We must continue to be vigilant. And we must keep up the pressure on both the state and federal levels.
Stay tuned for more details on what is happening in PA and be sure to show up at the ACLU Seminar.