Monday, September 29, 2008

A Gay Couple's Worst Nightmare

Sometimes opponents of same-sex marriage will argue that we don't need legal marriage if we can get all the same things from domestic partnership, or power-of-attorney paperwork. But it is not the same thing, as these true stories tragically illustrate:
  • While on a family cruise leaving from Miami, Lisa Pond, a healthy 39 year-old, suddenly collapsed. She was rushed to Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital with her partner Janice and three children following close behind. There, the hospital refused to accept information from Janice about her partner's medical history. Janice was informed that she was in an antigay city and state, and she could expect to receive no information or acknowledgment as family. A doctor finally spoke with Janice telling her that there was no chance of recovery. Other than one five minute visit, which was orchestrated by a Catholic priest at Janice's request to perform last rites, and despite the doctor's acknowledgement that no medical reason existed to prevent visitation, neither Janice nor her children were allowed to see Lisa until nearly eight hours after their arrival. Soon after Lisa's death, Janice tried to get her death certificate in order to get Life Insurance and Social Security benefits for their children. She was denied both by the State of Florida and the Dade County Medical Examiner.

  • Just ask Bill Flanigan. Bill’s partner of five years, Robert Daniel, was admitted in critical condition to a Baltimore shock trauma center because of complications arising from AIDS. The two were on a family trip from California on their way to visit Bill’s sister in the Washington, D.C. area. Bill followed Robert’s ambulance to the hospital and rushed into the critical care unit. When he arrived, he asked to see Robert and confer with his doctors. Staff members shut him out. They said that only family could visit, and Bill didn’t count.

    But, Bill insisted, what about my durable power of attorney for health care decisions? What about the fact that we are registered as domestic partners? (Bill and Robert carried around with them all the legal documentation they could to make sure their relationship would be respected.) The staff paid these things no mind. They let other patients’ family members in and out of critical care throughout the night, while Bill waited. He was never permitted to make the physicians aware of Robert’s wishes not to have life-prolonging treatment, and he was kept from Robert’s side. The nightmare the couple had tried to make sure would never happen came to pass.

    Bill was allowed to see Robert only after Robert’s sister and mother arrived, hours later. By that time, Robert was unconscious, his eyes taped shut and a breathing tube – something Robert specifically did not want – down his throat. Robert died a few days later, without the two men ever having a chance to say goodbye.

  • Mary Beth Dyer and her partner, Fran, have been together for more than fifteen years. That didn't matter to the doctor who was assigned to Mary Beth's case when she was hospitalized with unexplained blood-loss in 2000. Mary Beth's father had to come from another city to speak with the physician and relay the information to Fran. Even though Fran was clearly the person who would take over caring for Mary Beth after her release, the doctor refused to talk to her. Mary Beth's father had to relay information from the doctor to Fran throughout Mary Beth's hospital stay.

  • As mothers and partners, the protections of marriage are important to Jodi and Stacey. When Stacey was hospitalized in 2001, a nurse at a hospital in Baltimore prevented Jodi from seeing her. Jodi and Stacey fear they could be kept apart again should another medical crisis arise. Those fears are not unfounded. Last year, when Jodi and Stacey’s younger son was born, nurses at a state hospital in Baltimore were confused by Stacey’s relationship to the baby. This confusion delayed and compromised Stacey’s ability to make medical decisions for her prematurely born son. This was especially unnerving for Stacey, since birthmother Jodi was unavailable immediately following the delivery.

    Twice, hospital staff have failed to recognize Jodi and Stacey’s relationship during a medical crisis. They do not want to endure a third time. Marriage is the only failsafe that will protect their family.

1 comment:

KipEsquire said...


At least in the U.S., people who find themselves in this tragic circumstance should never hesitate to call the relevant local office of Lambda Legal or the ACLU. They both have field offices staffed by real-world attorneys ready and eager to help navigate through local laws, politics and -- if necessary -- the media.