Published April, 2010

President Obama Directs the Dept. of Health and Human Services to Enforce Visitation Rights for LGBT Couples (2010)

President Obama has directed the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to ensure that hospitals do not deny visitation rights to same-sex partners. President Obama gave DHHS until October 15, 2010 to provide information on the steps the agency has taken to "address hospital visitation, medical decisionmaking, or other health care issues that affect LGBT patients and their families." President Obama's memorandum stems from the actions of Jackson Memorial Hospital, which denied Janice Langbehn and her three children visitation rights to her partner, Lisa Pond, for eight hours, during which time Pond slipped into a coma and died. Last September a federal district court rejected Lambda Legal's suit on behalf of Langbehn against Jackson Memorial Hospital, finding that the hospital was under no legal duty to allow visitation rights to Langbehn. Despite the dismissal, President Obama became aware of Langbehn's experience and personally contacted her to express his condolences soon after issuing his memorandum to DHHS. In the past, advocates have noted that even in hospitals which already have policies to protect the rights of LGBT partners, enforcement is contingent upon cooperation by the nurses in charge at individual hospitals. New DHHS policy will become binding administrative law, and advocates hope that the attention that President Obama and his administration has given the continuing problem of discrimination against queer families will discourage such practices.