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LGBT-Inclusive Definitions of Family

Healthcare organizations can ensure equal treatment of LGBT patients and their families by adopting an explicitly inclusive definition of “family.” The following definition of “family,” which is being used by healthcare organizations nationwide, incorporates expert advice from hospital administrators, legal counsel, and health professionals:

  • [HOSPITAL] adopts the following definition of “family” for purposes of hospital-wide visitation policy:  “Family” means any person(s) who plays a significant role in an individual’s life. This may include a person(s) not legally related to the individual. Members of “family” include spouses, domestic partners, and both different-sex and same-sex significant others. “Family” includes a minor patient’s parents, regardless of the gender of either parent. Solely for purposes of visitation policy, the concept of parenthood is to be liberally construed without limitation as encompassing legal parents, foster parents, same-sex parent, step-parents, those serving in loco parentis, and other persons operating in caretaker roles.

This definition of "family" establishes a usefully broad concept of family. The specific enumeration of family members provides guidance to staff and prevents biased interpretations of “family.” It should also be noted that the term “domestic partners” in this definition encompasses not only domestic partnerships but also all legally recognized same-sex relationships, including civil unions and reciprocal beneficiary arrangements. The definition also focuses on a functional definition of parenthood, established by an individual’s role as caretaker of a minor child. This is designed to ensure visitor access for the individuals most responsible for the care of a minor patient, even if this caretaker relationship lacks formal recognition under state law.

This definition of “family” informs hospital personnel about the unique nature of parenthood in the visitation context. While the definition requires that caretaker individuals be granted visitation for minor patients, this caretaker status does not necessarily confer the rights that accompany legal parental status. For instance, applicable state law may dictate that only a biological or custodial parent may determine the course of medical care for a minor child.

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