If ever there were a perfect example of how basic legal contracts are an inferior alternative to the benefits of marriage for same-sex couples, this heartbreaking story is it. Missouri resident Roger Gorley was staying by the hospital bedside of his partner Allen, with whom he’s been in a civil union for nearly five years — though it is not recognized in Missouri — and with whom he also shares power of attorney. When one of Allen’s family members asked him to leave and he refused, a security official at the Research Medical Center arrested him, removed him from the premises, and issued a restraining order preventing him from visiting his partner.
Gorley explained to Fox4 that the nurses were not even willing to verify their power of attorney, despite the fact the couple has visited the hospital multiple times:
GORLEY: I was not recognized as being the husband, I wasn’t recognized as being the partner… She didn’t even bother to go look it up, to check into it… All we want is equal rights.
In 2010, President Obama issued a memorandum establishing a rule preventing hospitals from denying visitation privileges to same-sex partners, but Gorley’s story demonstrates how easily disregarded that protection is in the absence of marriage equality. The Kansas City-based Research Medical Center issued the following statement defending its actions:
We believe involving the family is an important part of the patient care process. And, the patient`s needs are always our first priority. When anyone becomes disruptive to providing the necessary patient care, we involve our security team to help calm the situation and to protect our patients and staff. If the situation continues to escalate, we have no choice but to request police assistance.
Nothing in the Missouri law granting power of attorney rights suggests that a family member can trump the power of attorney granted to a non-relative. However, this passage does seem to suggest room for a facility to attempt to justify such discrimination:
No hospital, nursing facility, residential care facility, or other health care facility shall be required to honor a health care decision of an attorney in fact if that decision is contrary to the hospital’s or facility’s institutional policy based on religious beliefs or sincerely held moral convictions unless the hospital or facility received a copy of the durable power of attorney for health care prior to commencing the current series of treatments or current confinement.
In other words, if Gorley did not have the piece of paper granting him power of attorney on hand before treatment of his partner began, the hospital could argue that it refuses to recognize same-sex partners based on religious beliefs or “moral convictions.” The Research Medical Center does not have a religious affiliation and claims not to discriminate based on sexual orientation, but denying a patient access to the individual entrusted with his medical decisions appears to be a fairly egregious violation.
In a second statement on its Facebook page, the hospital claimed that the partner’s behavior was “disruptive and belligerent” and clarifying that there is no restraining order:
We appreciate your concern and would like to assure you that Research Medical Center puts the care of our patients as our #1 priority regardless of sexual orientation. We support all the communities we serve. We have a long history of commitment to a culture of diversity. Research Medical Center was one of the first hospitals in Kansas City to offer domestic partner benefits, which have been in place since 2005, and we have had a policy specifically acknowledging domestic partners’ visitation rights in place for years.
This was an issue of disruptive and belligerent behavior by the visitor that affected patient care. The hospital’s response followed the same policies that would apply to any individual engaged in this behavior in a patient care setting and was not in any way related to the patient’s or the visitor’s sexual orientation or marital status. This visitor created a barrier for us to care for the patient. Attempts were made to deescalate the situation. Unfortunately, we had no choice but to involve security and the Kansas City MO Police Department.
We would also like to correct the misinformation about a restraining order. There was no issue of a restraining order by the hospital.
A Change.org petition is calling on the Obama administration to pull Medicare and Medicaid funding from the hospital in accordance with the nondiscrimination rule, and Federal officials said they were “aware” of the situation and are looking to collect facts and take the appropriate steps “in a speedy manner.”