Love Her

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My partner just got diagnosed with breast cancer. Though we’ve lived
together for 17 years and consider ourselves married, we’ve never
legally tied the knot because of complicated family reasons. All our
friends are comfortable with the arrangement as are our respective
children from prior marriages. Even the rabbi greets us as a couple.
But I’m going to need to interact with medical and legal systems that
have never been friendly to us. What can she do, I do, we do, and
what should we ask other people to do so that I have the same rights
as a legal spouse, short of walking down an aisle before her chemo

Love Her

Dear Love Her:

In addition to my answer, talk to your family attorney, whose input will
outrank and augment mine. The most important thing she can do is to
immediately review (or write) her medical power of attorney (POA)
and name you as the person who has the right to make health care
decisions for her if she is not able to do so. The next most important
thing you can do is make sure her doctor understands your relation
ship, and to have that doctor make sure that any medical institution
she’ll encounter has a copy of the medical POA that names you. You
might consider putting a picture of you on it so your face is on her

Whenever she goes to a medical office, whether it’s outpatient or
inpatient, the two of you should introduce yourself to the care staff,
the office staff, the charge nurse, whomever is likely to serve as a
gatekeeper for her room. Your partner should explain that you are her
functional spouse and that she wants you granted all spousal
privileges, as well as that you have the POA and that your voice is in
lieu of hers if she cannot speak. Be pleasant but firm. Go out of your
way to treat them as friends and allies, not the enemy. Have your
doctor reinforce the point. Then follow up with brownies and other                            goodies. Nothing says I love how you treat my family like food and a
big smile of appreciation.