Roger Gorley was arrested at Missouri’s Research Medical Center on Tuesday after refusing to leave his partner Allen's bedside. Recent outcry over the case serves as a useful reminder that hospital visitation remains a murky area in state law, and is an issue requiring serious scrutiny and legal overhaul, particularly in states like Missouri.
Missouri does not recognize same-sex marriage, but defines partnerships through its Domestic Partner Registry. Most hospitals in the state allow for partner visitations, protected under President Obama’s hospital visitation memorandum put forward in April of 2010, which requires any hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid (such as the Missouri Research Medical Center) to allow same-sex marriage visitation rights. However, there remains gray area in Missouri law for such protections to be challenged.
The problem remains that there is room on the law books for hospitals to reserve judgments denying same-sex couples visitation rights. Missouri law states, “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.”
If the Missouri hospital wished to deny same-sex partners recognition for visitation, the hospital remains free to argue such a position based on "moral convictions."
The hospital is fighting back, though. Hospital spokesperson Denise Charpentier said in a statement, “Research Medical Center puts the care of our patients as our #1 priority regardless of sexual orientation … 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 ... Attempts were made to deescalate the situation. Unfortunately, we had no choice but to involve security and the Kansas City Police Department.” Huffington Post reports that Gorley's daughter as saying the "belligerent" claim is false, but the same article states that Allen's brother wanted Gorley out of the hospital.
Hospitals must tow a difficult line protecting the visitation rights of families while upholding the utmost care for the interests of patients. It is becoming tricky terrain for these institutions to respond to the various parties involved in caring for patients. Recent outcry over Gorley’s case is reminiscent of a number of similar events that have gained national attention over visitation rights in recent years.
Ultimately, the patient should always be the utmost priority. However the details come to bear in this specific case, it serves as an important reminder that more specific language regarding same-sex partners in visitation laws, particularly in states like Missouri which do not recognize gay marriage, will serve everyone's interests in eliminating the gray area that persists on the law books. North Carolina, among other states, has introduced specific protections that help eliminate potential conflict by allowing patients to select designated visitors outside of immediate family members. Missouri should follow suit.