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April 25, 2008

Hospital Visitation Rights in North Carolina

A new statewide hospital policy will permit same sex partners to visit a hospitalized loved one in North Carolina.  Generally, only immediate family members can visit patients as a matter of right.  Now, same sex partners will be permitted to visit an injured loved one.

It is crucial to be able to visit a loved one in a time of need.  Now, same-sex partners and unmarried partners will be able to visit an injured loved one in a North Carolina hospital.  See full Article on 365Gay.com here.

April 25, 2008 | Permalink

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The entire concept of "hospital visitation rights" has always struck me as odd. I spent 15 years in health care administration before law school and the visitation policy was often a topic of discussion.

It seemed to me then -- and now -- that there are only two justifications for a hospital's restricting a patient's visitors. First, the presence of visitors may interfere with the hospital's mission of patient care. Thus, it makes sense to limit the hours of visitation and the number of visitors at any given time. Second, the presence of visitors may interfere with the treatment or recovery of an individual patient. Thus, on a case-by-case basis, it is reasonable for a doctor to limit visits with an individual patient.

Otherwise, the patient should be the one to decide who he wants to see and when he feels up to having visitors.

Visitation policies serve the purpose of letting doctors off the hook for having to make an individual assessment for each patient. And they let patients off the hook so that they don't have to tell annoying Aunt Thelma or the nosy neighbor that they would really rather be alone.

But when a patient is physically able to deal with visitors and mentally able to express his preferences, what business is it of the hospital who he chooses to have visit?

The problem, of course, is the terminally ill patient or the patient who is otherwise unable to make his preferences known. If I am in a coma, there is no question that my husband will be able to be at my bedside. Our marriage license is the "proxy" for my lifelong consent to have him there.

I am pleased to see individual states beginning to appreciate that same-sex couples should have the comfort of knowing that they will not be kept apart at such a time. Some hospitals are, on their own, adopting similar policies. But this is just an incomplete, piecemeal approach to recognizing a legal status for same-sex couples -- when all they need is a license like mine.

Posted by: Janice Pea | Apr 26, 2008 7:21:48 AM

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