Flanigan v. University of Maryland Hospital System
On October 16, 2000, on a cross-country trip to visit family, Bill Flanigan's partner Robert Daniel was admitted to the University of Maryland Hospital's Shock Trauma Center with a serious illness. Despite the fact that Flanigan and Daniel were registered as domestic partners in California and that Flanigan had with him a Power of Attorney to make health care decisions for Daniel, hospital personnel prevented Flanigan from seeing his partner. Hospital staff told Flanigan that only "family" members were permitted to visit and that "partners" did not qualify. Flanigan was unable to consult with doctors or to tell surgeons of Daniel's wish to forego life-prolonging measures such as a breathing tube. Several hours later, when Flanigan was finally allowed to visit, Daniel was no longer conscious, his eyes were taped shut and doctors had inserted a breathing tube. Daniel never regained consciousness and died three days later. On behalf of Bill Flanigan, Lambda Legal unsuccessfully argued before a local jury that the hospital was liable for damages.
Because they are prohibited from marrying, gay and lesbian partners too often have to argue their right to hospital visits with ill loved ones. National standards for hospital accreditation allow visitation to family members and include non-legally related individuals as family members if they play a significant role in the patient's life. This case illustrates the need for hospitals to recognize the legitimacy of same-sex relationships so that loved ones are not kept apart at a time when they most need each other.
Lambda Legal's Impact
Bill Fanigan and Robert Daniel's story has been a key feature in presentations to state and local legislators around the country, and part of nationwide educational work that led vice presidential candidate John Edwards to raise the importance of hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples in the 2003 debates. In conjunction with this lawsuit, Lambda Legal distributed an action kit to same-sex partners across the country to help make sure their local hospitals honor national accreditation standards and allow partners to visit loved ones.
David S. Buckel