Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Shortcomings of Compassion

Dispatches from the Culture Wars reports on a lesbian couple who were denied visitation rights and a chance to provide medical information when one woman fell ill and was taken to a hospital. The woman died shortly afterward, and the state of Florida refused to provide a copy of the death certificate so the surviving partner and their children could obtain survivor's benefits.

Rather than point to the legal failures to provide recourse for these and other people in such tragic circumstances, I'd like to focus on the shortcomings of the hospital. While it is certainly important to respect patient privacy, does the Hippocratic Oath and the physician's humanity not demand that all reasonable measures be taken to obtain information that could save a patient's life? There was no conflict here, other than possibly with an administrative policy barring non-family from seeing a patient or providing information for the protection of the patient, but when weighed against the chance of saving a patient's life and the opportunity to act with a certain level of compassion, I don't see how any physician could look him or herself in the mirror after such a failure as this.

As I am not a part of the medical community, I am unfamiliar with the professional perspective on this. It is my hope, however, that if there is not yet consensus by the medical community on how to humanely address cases like these in a consistent fashion (because they are not going away and will become more prevalent) that some can be reached to demonstrate that the medical community can and will rise to a higher standard of humanity than what is dictated by the law.

Update: Alicia Ouellette has provided a link with information on the lawsuit being filed on the patient's behalf by Lamda Legal.

5 comments:

Alicia Ouellette said...

This case is undoubtedly tragic but hardly surprising. Until same-sex couples are allowed to marry, we will see more of the same. For better or for worse, legal recognition of same-sex relationships is the key to full integration and respect in these United States.

I agree with SabrinaW that a compassionate health care provider might have made a difference in this case by standing up against hospital policy and Florida Law to do the right thing. But in my view, at least, laws that allow discrimination against gays and lesbians by denying them access to marriage, which is the key to so many rights, are the real problem.

For that reason, I was happy to see that Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on the one year anniversary of Lisa Pond's death. Read more about the lawsuit here:
http://www.lambdalegal.org/news/pr/lesbian-fights-for-justice-for-partner.html

-Alicia Ouellette

SabrinaW said...

Alicia, thank you for your comment. I was wondering what sorts of consequences a physician could anticipate if they were to act on behalf of the patient in this type of situation; could the retribution by the hospital be as severe as to make firing a real threat?

bob koepp said...

I agree 100% that discrimination against gays and lesbians is wrong, and that the wrong is compounded when it interferes with the practice of good medicine. But I don't agree witht the view that "laws that allow discrimination against gays and lesbians by denying them access to marriage, which is the key to so many rights, are the real problem." From my perspective, the "real problem" here is that marriage is the key to so many rights. The notion that basic human rights would be indexed to marital status is absurd.

SabrinaW said...

The notion that basic human rights would be indexed to marital status is absurd.

As someone who has no desire to marry, I heartily agree. I would love to see a "basic rights package" available whereby any adult could enter into a legal relationship with any other adult, with whatever amount of emotional intimacy they cared for (best friends, co-parents, etc).

Kelly Hills said...

The thing that really leaves me so spitting mad about this is the absolutely inane notion that preventing gay/lesbian couples from marrying somehow preserves the sanctity of marriage... in a country that aired a reality show called Married By America, where strangers were matched by family members and entered in a reality competition to see who would get married for prizes and money.

Blah.

And having been married, I'm with Sabrina. I'd like to see marriage itself relegated to a religious institution that has no bearing on civil, legal matters, and have a civil/legal contract that gives someone all the benefits of marriage to whomever (or whomevers) so deigned. One of the sadly compelling reasons my ex-husband and I got married was for the legal benefits; we actually sat down and figured out it was cheaper to get the benefits we wanted (all the medical ones, for exmaple) to get married than if we filed the legal paperwork individually. (And yes, the fact that this was a motivation and we eventually ended up divorced isn't lost on me...)