Thursday, June 17, 2010

A proposal on hospital visitation

Reader Geoff G. links to a sad story about a man whose same-sex partner's parents and family would not allow him into their son's (his partner's) hospital room to say goodbye when their son was dying of a sudden heart attack.

Of course, Geoff assumes that I would agree with the parents on this one, and even when I said I didn't, creates some "guilty by association" that says that because I think homosexual sex acts are gravely morally evil and that same-sex marriage is wrong from both moral and sociological standpoints, I might as well be standing in that hospital room holding up a barrier.

Now, if I said that because Geoff G. approves of homosexual sex acts, same-sex marriage, etc. he must necessarily approve of bathhouses, anonymous sex trysts in public parks or public bathrooms, and the North American Man-Boy Love Association, I would be engaged in an act of demonizing my opponent. I don't believe that just because some people think that homosexual sex acts are good and fine and morally terrific, etc., they must believe all of that other stuff--but Geoff has no problem putting me on the side of the Hospital Barrier Brigade just because I accept my 2,000 year old religion's clear, strong teaching that homosexual sex acts are gravely morally evil, just like adulterous sex acts, unmarried sex acts, sex acts performed on oneself, or a whole plethora of other perversions too unpleasant to mention.

In fact, though, the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality is more subtle than Geoff or his friends generally understand. Let's take a look:
Chastity and homosexuality

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
What does this say, in brief? It says three things: one, that homosexual sex acts are gravely morally evil; two, that the inclination to this act (not the person suffering from the inclination) is objectively disordered, but is for most a trial, and is not a reason for any unjust discrimination against same-sex inclined people; and three, that just like everybody else, homosexual people are called to chastity.

So what is unjust discrimination? To understand that better, let's look at some things that might legitimately be opposed in regard to same-sex people: same-sex marriage, adoption by same-sex couples, and the teaching of same-sex sexuality to children as something which is morally good. In each of these examples there is no way to proceed without insisting that homosexual acts are morally good, something to which the Church can never agree (as the Catechism spells out quite clearly).

But things which do not require the Church to blunt her teaching about the grave immorality of every same-sex sex act do not fall into that same category. Allowing, for example, the same-sex partner of a dying person into the person's hospital room is in no way a condoning of the sin of homosexual activity. It is simply an act of human charity which ought not to be withheld ordinarily. Except in rare circumstances, then, depriving the dying person of the ability to take leave of his partner (and vice versa) would be, in my opinion, an act of unjust discrimination. (And to be clear, by "rare circumstances" I have in mind such things as the dying person's own request that the partner not be admitted first and foremost, and afterward such considerations as the person's medical needs and so forth).

This is where the same-sex marriage advocates tend to get a little angry. Oh, it's easy for me to say that it's okay for two men or two women who have had a sexual relationship to be allowed into each other's hospital rooms, but without marriage there's just no way whatsoever to make sure the person's wishes will be respected, etc.

I don't believe that for a minute--and I can think of other situations, not even same-sex ones, where the right to have certain visitors admitted or others excluded becomes very difficult to ensure when one is in the hospital for whatever reason, and where the marital status of the person in question doesn't even affect the situation.

So I propose some common sense legislation that would solve this problem. We could call it something like, "Hospital Visitation Act of 2010," or perhaps come up with a catchier name. This Act would declare that the right to be visited in the hospital by the people of one's choice was to be protected, and would create a way for adults to designate, well in advance of hospitalization, up to ten people (or so--that's just a working number) who are to be allowed visiting privileges under any circumstance except those where for medical reasons the hospital can't allow any visitors (e.g., highly contagious illnesses, certain ICU situations, etc.). Anyone other than those ten people could still be admitted if the patient was alert, conscious, and could request their presence, but in the event that the patient was no longer able to communicate his or her wishes, at least those ten would be allowed (and there could be a tier system as well, so that in the event the hospital is only allowing a few visitors the right ones would be at the top of the list). For minor children, of course, visitors would still be up to the parents or guardians.

I'm not entirely sure just how the list would be created, maintained, etc. On the one hand, the system would have to allow for easy changes; on the other, it would have to prevent people from fraudulently putting themselves on someone else's list. But those aren't insurmountable obstacles in our technologically advanced age.

Would there still be problems, if, for instance, a man left his former girlfriend on the list but forgot to add his present one, or any such similar situation? Sure--but at present, both of them could show up claiming to be the man's wife or sister, and hospital personnel shouldn't have to bear the burden of needing to verify every person's identity before admitting them to a patient's room.

And the occasional relative or friend might be annoyed at not being on someone's list, but when the patient is out of danger they can take it up with that patient, instead of blaming society, heteronormism, bigotry or any other such thing for leaving them out.

After all, hospitals have visiting rules for the safety and comfort of their patients. If the parents of a same-sex attracted man use those rules to deny his partner a reasonable visit, they are out of line; but we could, I think, create a system which allowed all people, not just same-sex ones, a greater degree of control over who visits them in the hospital without in any way needing to tamper with the ancient definition of marriage.


Ragamuffin said...

I had a discussion like this with a friend of mine who came out years ago. We had actually managed to informally draw up a contract of sorts that included all sorts of rights and privileges that one could amend at will (much like, you know, a last will and testament).

But it seems the goal changed a long time ago. Mere tolerance is no longer enough.

Kim said...

Good job, Red! Thanks!

eulogos said...

As a nurse, I always advocated for letting a homosexual person's partner stay with them all night, not just at regular visiting hours. With my own patients, I did so successfully. There were nurses who felt and acted otherwise. Some of them were ones with whom I had been in a class on "controversial issues in nursing" in which they had mouthed all the current platitudes about what constitutes a family (people who love each other) and who should be allowed to adopt children etc etc. I was threatened with nongraduation for expressing the church's teachings as my beliefs in this class. It turned out that this other nurse knew which side her bread was buttered on; in school it was the "liberals", in the hospital, it was the older (as in 65 when I was 45) nurses, and that's what she followed.
We never had a family who disagreed however. I think I would have endeavored to intervene in this situation, if possible.

We did have a man who had an exwife who was the mother of his children, a wife, and a girlfriend, each of whom considered herself his "real" partner. Those were some fireworks!

Susan Peterson

David said...

If you were to argue that Geoff's position and demeanor regarding Catholicism enabled people to be more antagonistic toward the Church, I'd agree with you, Erin. He even went so far as to characterize the Church as evil. Lambast him over that, and you'd find in me a defender not of him but you in that similarity.

The issue has never been that you believe homosexuality is sinful. That's why you're confused people like me or Geoff can claim you bear some responsibility for the consequences of what Geoff described. And it's also why you become indignant that none of us would stretch his presumed proposition of homosexuality is morally neutral means full reign to NAMBLA and the other examples you mention.

As much as you'd like to believe it, because it absolves you of any responsibility, you don't simply have the premise that homosexuality is sinful. You go out of your way to malign anything that has to do with gays, seeing black where things are unequivocally grey or even white in the many examples I've already expressed to you. The haughty way in which you approach it, the quoting of Mark Shea who is just as ostentatious about it (and may I ask what gay man or woman has ever claimed that homosexuality is the source and summit of all goodness, or even something remotely similar. It's not funny because it's so far removed from the actual debate).

After reading this post, I wish you were this kind in regard to your others about gays. But it only seems to happen when people point out where your rhetoric and your lead and through some form of guilt-ridden defense mechanism, only then do you retreat to the Catechism.

Where are your "respect, compassion, and sensitivity" toward gays in your other posts, Erin? You can maintain homosexuality is sinful/evil without having to embellish the facts or assume the worst possible light in every story you hear. You seem to think that every Christian news source that approaches homosexuality wouldn't have an axe to grind, whereas any secular news source approaching the Church is rabidly anti-Catholic. It makes no sense.

These are the occurrences that I, if not Geoff, refer to when saying that you definitely foster a hostile atmosphere that can easily lead to people justifying their actions like in that hospital scenario.

Anonymous said...

Like Rod Dreher is fond of saying, or was on his old blog, ideas -and words- have consequences.

freddy said...

Erin, I've noticed that some of your commenters seem to be able to (gasp!) *read your mind, heart and intentions!*

It's a gift. (And a curse.) ;)

Barbara C. said...

Under this act, can you specify up to ten people that you DON'T want to be allowed to visit you in the hospital?

Anonymous said...

Oh noes! Fear the enablers!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

This seems a perfectly reasonable proposition. I infer that, in general, Erin would also oppose discrimination in employment decisions based on homosexuality, unless there was some direct relationship to the job (e.g., playing the organ in the worship service of a church which teaches that homosexuality is sinful).

David alludes at some length to other implications of Erin's stated position, or rather, her stated adherence to the teachings of her church. I can't tell, from what David wrote, what those other implications might be.

Erin has used the adjective "hellish" when opposing, e.g., gay marriage. That would, naturally, be offensive to anyone who sought such a marriage, deeming it beneficial and honorable. But it doesn't take away from a sincere effort to practically apply the distinction between the act and the person.

When it comes to adopting children, there is at least a fair question as to the impact on the children. I'm perfectly willing to accept the right of a gay couple to buy a house together, no matter what I think the spiritual status of homosexuality is, because the persons affected, for good or ill, are only those making the decision. But, the first consideration in adoption is the welfare of the child, not the self-esteem of the applicant seeking to adopt.

I have the same caveat when it comes to teachers unions, or women prison guards demanding to work in men's prisons (which leads to men prison guards working in women's prisons). If the job involves another person's welfare or rights, then the employee's rights take on a different color than if the employee is merely processing tangible goods.

David said...


My viewpoint is more that, if I "respect" something, I give it due diligence. The best example I can think of is my reluctance to jump on the sensationalism that much of the media have undertaken with regard to stories about the Catholic Church. There are numerous examples, from taking B16 quotes out of context to an almost witch-hunt to implicate top people with nefarious deeds. While I disagree with some of the Church's teaching and have the all-too-human penchant for schadenfreude, my calls to being compassionate, sensitive, and respectful require me to acknowledge my own biases when approaching those reports, entertaining the idea that perhaps it isn't as horrendous as some are reporting or twisting to their aims.

It is possibly a divergence between me and Erin in understanding what those words mean, but as I suspect she would no more allow me to run away in good conscience with baseless statistics or conclusions and consider me a fair arbiter toward the Church, neither could I do the same for her methods when it comes to gay men and women. In fact, it drastically cheapens any attempt she might have at apologetics for her position (i.e., what gay person is persuaded to abstinence or her version of chastity by condescension? It turns off most reasonable people, regardless of romantic orientation).

And you bring up excellent considerations about adoption. If I could be convinced that it was doing damage to the child, not as rhetoric but as verifiable proof, I would be against gays adopting and raising children as a principle. What I do not respect is relying on some platitude or "common sense" with no desire to let the theory be open to refutation.

I almost wonder it's irrelevant, however, given that even if you removed adoption agencies or IVF options, there are still ways that gay couples end up with children (previous marriages being one example). In those cases, if not abroad, I do think it's in the best interests of the child, not what you call the self-esteem of the parents, to afford them some stability that could be granted by the other partner being able to adopt the child, Erin's reluctance to call them a "parent" notwithstanding.

Anonymous said...

I too am intrigued. Is there a case where a child's best interests are served by not being adopted and part of a family?

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Good point anonymous. Getting these things right involves a good deal of subtlety and nuance and recognition of all relevant facts in each individual situation.

While I might favor adoption by a heterosexual married couple over adoption by a gay couple, married or not, I would always favor adoption by a gay couple, married or not, over letting a child languish in one group home after another. (That is, assuming the gay couple in question are capable, patient, etc. parents... how do we evaluate all those things?)