Sunday, April 14, 2013

It shouldn't be this hard...

 My thoughts today are on the recent problem at the Research Medical Center, a hospital in Kansas City, Missouri where a duly designated same sex partner, Roger Gorley, was denied access to his loved one "Alan" due to other family members and a less than impressive performance by some hospital staff. You can read accounts and related articles on this story here, here, here and here.

I'll start out by saying that I don't downplay the fact that Roger Gorley may have behaved in a fashion that was inappropriate at the hospital. Getting loud, becoming "disruptive and belligerent" and ultimately arrested isn't good form almost anywhere. Exhibiting those qualities during a time where a problem needed to be resolved, not complicated or muddied with a distraction isn't good judgement ever. Most of us understand that when the shit's going down, you're much better served if you keep your cool, stay respectful and take the high road. Its a much more productive way to act.

 If I'm in that situation, and the reasonable approach hadn't worked, would I have gotten upset, raised my voice, appeared agitated? Quite possibly, yes. Absolutely. What kind of spouse just walks away calm as a cucumber under those circumstances?

To try and understand what Mr. Gormley felt that day is so hard for me. Any time that my wife Patty and I have needed medical attention, small or otherwise, we've always been together. Husband and wife, devoted partners, etc. It's how want and expect it to always be. Perhaps we're both over dramatic but there's always those little thoughts in the back of your head like "what if something goes wrong today?", "what if the anesthesia causes a bad reaction?" "What if, what, what if?" We're probably not unique among couples that way. Its mostly well contained fears but we are both in our fifties and at some point in the next 15 years or so one of us is likely to get some bad news in one form or another. We don't take much for granted.

I struggle to even comprehend what my reaction would be if suddenly my ability and right to be at her side and participate in her health care decisions was not just challenged, but over-ridden by an outsider. Its incomprehensible to me. We've lived together as man and wife for over 20 years, and we do so much together. We coordinate our schedules, parenting strategies, shopping lists, dinner plans, who's picking up milk and dog food today and who's cleaning the bathroom this weekend. And a hundred other things.

We live a perfectly normal life just like thousands of other couples do across the country.

It appears Roger and Alan had everything set up as officially as Missouri law permits. They are set up as each other's Power of Attorney for all health care decisions. No where are Alan's other family member's, who have not been involved in his health care decisions for 20 years, granted any authorization to know, be informed, consult, let alone make any decisions about his health or any treatments. Alan, as we all do, under the HIPAA law, has the right to privacy and choice when it comes to his private medical matters. Roger and Allan were "married" five years ago and while Missouri doesn't recognize their marriage or even civil unions, Missouri does recognize state laws regarding power of attorney and the federal HIPAA regulations.

Clearly something went wrong that day. The timeline is laid out here by Mr. Gorley's daughter, Amanda in some detail. Why was Alan's brother and sister waiting for them at the house that day and why were the paramedics and police with them?  Everything after that just seemed to spiral downward.

Here's a video with both Roger and Alan's brother Lee...

There's probably some things we don't know yet on this. But to step away from the details of this specific situation, let's focus on the larger, grander issue. Equal rights for same sex partners. The 14th Amendment of the Constitution I believe addresses this over-arching issue:

(The text of the amendment)

Section 1.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

There is, before we even get into the meaning of  words, something that needs to be addressed in terms of how to read or "interpret" this amendment. Some say we should take the words literally, while others suggest its best to consider the time and place that we apply these words as the Constitution to some is a "living and breathing" document.

I will defer to those 2nd Amendment advocates who suggest we needn't and shouldn't interpret what the words mean, just follow them.

There's no questions that Roger and Alan and countless of other LGBT people who wish to marry the loved one of their choice are citizens of the United States and therefor are entitled as their birthright to all the privileges and protections of the Constitution. This is covered in the first one and a half lines of the amendment. Now we get to the part where is forbids any State to deprive any person of life, liberty or property (then changed to read pursuit of happiness) without due process of law not deny anyone equal protection under the law.

I've read it a hundred times and "except gay people" just isn't there.

Its never going to be there, is it?


One of the things that's admirable about how our country was constructed was that everyone has a fair shot and equal footing/treatment at least in some theoretical way. We know equality doesn't exist across our population. Blacks, women, immigrants, the old, the disabled, non Christians, etc. all can point to a dark time in their history as a sub-group and tell some horrific tales of discrimination. We are getting better. We're trying. We need to try harder.

I hope before I leave this life, we've agreed as a country and as a people to apply the laws and founding principles toward everyone regardless of color, faith, orientation, health etc. It, to me, seems like this shouldn't be so hard, so scary to get right.

It just shouldn't.


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