Obama orders hospitals to allow visitation rights to gay couples

How can the president “force” American hospitals to alter their discrimination policies? The same way Bush “forced” some medical researchers to avoid embryonic stem cells: By issuing an executive order denying them federal funding if they don’t comply. The One’s order applies only to hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid (which is most hospitals, natch) and amounts to saying, “If you don’t do this, we can’t do business.” So, rest assured, they’ll follow orders.

President Obama on Thursday signed a memorandum requiring hospitals to allow gays and lesbians to have non-family visitors and to grant their partners medical power of attorney.

The president ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to prohibit discrimination in hospital visitation. The memo is scheduled to be made public Friday morning, according to an administration official and another source familiar with the White House decision…

“Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay,” Obama says in the memo.

Affected, he said, are “gay and lesbian American 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.”

It’s not just gays who are affected: Essentially, the ruling lets patients designate whoever they want as visitors irrespective of whether they’re family or not. I can’t imagine that this will provoke a huge backlash, even among gay marriage opponents — if compassion for suffering is good enough to justify picking up the tab for uninsured patients, it’s good enough to broaden visitation — but I’m curious why he did it now. Gays aren’t happy about the military’s foot-dragging on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but Gates has already taken measures recently to hurry that along as best he can. If there’s a political angle to this, I’m not sure I see it.

I also don’t see why discrimination policy (or stem-cell policy, for that matter) should be set unilaterally by the president via funding protocols instead of by Congress, especially given The One’s increasing habit of bypassing the legislature to get things done. Granted, they can overrule him by passing a statute, but doing it this way protects Blue Dogs from a vote they may not want to take ahead of the midterms. To which I say: If you can’t handle the tough votes, don’t run.

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