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.