Washington (CNN) -- President Obama has asked the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a rule that would prevent hospitals from denying visitation privileges to gay and lesbian partners.
The president's Thursday memo said, "There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital. ... Yet every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides."
Gay and lesbian Americans are "uniquely affected" by relatives-only policies at hospitals, Obama said, adding that they "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."
When Lisa Pond collapsed during a family vacation in Florida three years ago, her partner of 17 years was kept away from her hospital room.
Janice Langbehn begged and waited for hours to stand by Pond's bedside at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital, but it wasn't until her partner's sister arrived that she got any information. In the end, the person Pond was closest to was relegated to a waiting room as she died from an aneurysm.
"To hold Lisa's hand wasn't a gay right, it was a human right," Langbehn told CNN on Thursday.
Obama requested that the regulation make clear that any hospital receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding, which includes the vast majority of U.S. hospitals, must allow patients to decide who can visit them and prohibit discrimination based on a variety of characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
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