A lesbian has been barred from visiting her partner and giving advice about her treatment at a Fresno hospital in California.

On May 29, Kristin Orbin collapsed from an epileptic seizure during a same-sex marriage support rally and was taken to the emergency room of the hospital. However, staff then refused to listen to or let her partner of four years, Teresa Rowe, in to see her.

Rowe is legally Orbin’s health care agent, and is familiar with her medical history and care. Rowe even volunteered to have Orbin’s legal paperwork faxed to the hospital, but was told that it wouldn’t do any good. She then asked that at least a message be conveyed to the doctors to not give Orbin the drug Ativan, which she didn’t need and would cause unnecessary pain.

However the message was not delivered and the drug was administered to her. Meanwhile, when she was awake, Orbin was also asking to be allowed to see Rowe. Although they were both told that no visitors were allowed in the area where Orbin was being treated, other patients were receiving guests.

“We just couldn’t believe this was happening to us. This was the nightmare that we hoped we’d never have to live through,” said Rowe.

“Unfortunately, because Kristin suffers from epilepsy, trips to the hospital are pretty common for us, which is why we filled out the legal paper work to make sure I would be able to be with her and make emergency decisions about her care. But the hospital wouldn’t let me see Kristen and ignored my advice about her treatment. They ended up giving her the exact medication I repeatedly asked them not to give her.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have now sent a letter to the hospital urging that it adopt policy changes respecting same-sex relationships.

The letter charges that it was a violation of state law for the hospital to discriminate against the couple, as well as to refuse to recognise Rowe’s legal authority. It also notes that hospitals must post and follow a patient’s bill of rights that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation and grants patients the ability to designate visitors of their choosing and to decide who is able to make emergency decision about their care.

“Discrimination in healthcare settings is still far too common for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” said Jason Schneider, MD, President of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA).

“No one is served when partners are barred from visitation and kept from participating in conversations about their loved one’s care. It’s bad for doctors who are kept from potentially life threatening information, it’s bad for partners who are left waiting hopelessly in the waiting rooms and it’s especially traumatic for patients who need the love and support that only their partners can provide to help them through health care emergencies.”

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