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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 12, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 32
Children's Hospital policy 'murky' on Queer families
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Children's Hospital policy 'murky' on Queer families

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

When Ina Percival brought her daughter Kaya to the Seattle Children's Hospital emergency room on July 7, she expected professional treatment.

She didn't get it.

'I've always had a positive view of Children's,' Percival told SGN. 'I was seriously injured when I was hit by a car as a little child, and I was treated at Children's. I've always liked Children's.'

Her most recent encounter with Children's Hospital - which enjoys a reputation as one of the best pediatric hospitals in the Northwest - was not at all positive, however.

The story begins with her daughter's illness.

'Kaya had been struggling with a high fever,' Percival said. 'It spiked late in the day, and our doctor said to take her to Children's.' According to Percival, when she arrived at the ER, the medical staff behaved professionally.

'The nurse interviewed us while we were waiting for the doctor, ' Percival said. 'They did the usual things. They took Kaya's temperature. They asked Kaya's history.'

'They knew we were Queer,' Percival continued. 'I told them Kaya's other mom was in the hospital with our twins.'

Things started to go wrong for Percival and Kaya when a hospital administrator appeared.

'[The administrator] came across as a bit immature - just not very experienced,' Percival noted.

Percival said she was surprised and annoyed when he began asking 'invasive questions, including who was the birth mother, and the status of my relationship.'

'I had my partner's father with me,' Percival continued. 'The very first question was, 'Is this the father?' I said 'No, it's the grandpa.'

According to Children's Hospital spokesperson Louise Maxwell, the hospital is required to determine if the adult accompanying a child has the authority to make the necessary medical decisions.

'Washington state law determines who can serve as a legal decision-maker for minor patients,' Children's Hospital said in a statement Maxwell sent to SGN.

'The biological parent is always a legal decision-maker unless parental rights have been terminated for abuse or neglect. Non-biological parents do not automatically have legal decision-making authority. They receive this authority by becoming adoptive parents in a court hearing. That's true for stepparents, same-sex partners of biological parents, and relatives with actual physical custody, among others.

'For these situations, Children's has a consistent approach of verifying the legal status of non-biological parents before allowing them to make decisions about the care of our minor patients. We take these steps to assure the safety of patients and to assure that only the right people make these crucial decisions about our patients.'

Percival said she realizes the administrator was trying to establish 'parental rights,' such as the right to give consent for treatment, but believes his line of questioning was insulting and discriminatory.

'Kaya has my last name,' Percival said. 'Had I been straight - if I'd said I had a man at home - I would not have been asked those questions, and frankly, I've never been asked [them] in my two and a half years with Kaya.'

Speaking with SGN by phone, Maxwell said that the kinds of questions admissions officers would ask do depend on the patient's family situation.

'[Questions] could differ from situation to situation,' she said. 'With every family it would be somewhat different. It may not - let's say it was a stepparent. That doesn't automatically confer authority.'

'In our department, the phrase we like is 'parent or legal guardian,' Maxwell continued. 'We'd ask 'Are you the parent or legal guardian of the child?'

Maxwell was asked what would happen if the adult accompanying a child answered that question with 'yes.' Would Children's staff ask any additional questions about the family, or about the adult's relationship with other family members? Would they require documentation?

'We try to establish who has authority to make medical decisions for the child,' Maxwell repeated. 'Domestic partnership rights don't necessarily confer that authority. There might be more questions, yes. People very rarely bring all their documents with them to the E.R. Not even their proof of insurance. It might get into - it would depend on the family.'

Asked if she could understand why a parent in a same-sex relationship might find some of those questions intrusive or offensive, Maxwell sighed.

'I don't know,' she said. 'I guess it would depend on what kinds of questions were asked. We try to provide all our patients with the same high level of care.'

Like many children, Kaya has had her share of childhood illnesses. Asked if she'd ever encountered similar problems with other medical providers, Percival exclaimed, 'Not at all!'

'The U.W. Medical Center - they were way cool. The Polyclinic - nobody even batted an eyelash. Nobody else seemed to express an interest, or an issue.'

Percival said she struggled to remain calm under extended questioning by the hospital administrator.

'Anger is not the best solution, especially with a sick child in your arms,' she observed.

Finally growing frustrated, Percival told the administrator, 'If you need something specific, ask, and then just go away.'

'He never gave me a straight answer about what he wanted,' she recalled.

According to Percival, the administrator reappeared a half-hour later.

'I wanted to let you know I called our lawyers,' he told Percival. 'Our policy is murky at best.'

He then produced a document, which Percival signed, and he left.

'He never clearly articulated whether they have a policy or not,' she told SGN. 'I find it hard to believe he didn't know.'

Asked about the administrator's remark, Maxwell said, 'Murky?' I don't know that I would choose that word. There are a number of relationships in families, and many different kinds of families.'

Fortunately, the outcome for Kaya turned out to be a good one.

'Children's did not offer treatment for Kaya's illness,' Percival said, and after consulting with an E.R. doctor, she decided to take her daughter to their family doctor the next day.

'The [Children's] doctor checked her for obvious signs of bacterial infection and then wanted to perform an invasive test that I felt was not best for our child, which was confirmed by our family doctor the next morning.

'Basically the Children's doctor was able to tell me that waiting to see our family doctor should be OK, and that I should continue with medications to treat Kaya's high fever,' Percival said.

As it turned out, Kaya's fever broke the next day, and she has completely recovered.

Percival and Kaya were in Children's E.R. about an hour, she said, but that was enough to convince her not to go back.

'They were not able to provide anything helpful,' she said. 'In the future, I would choose alternative medical intervention if I can.'

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