Advance Directives for LGBT Couples
In an emergency, would you be treated as a couple?
You love each other, you live together, you care for each other in sickness and in health. You are each other’s closest relative, the one who knows what the other’s wishes are. But if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and hospitalized or unable to speak for yourself, who will be permitted to speak for you? Who will listen?
This is good advice for anyone—sick or healthy, in a committed relationship or single, LGBT or straight. But it is particularly important for the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person who has a life-limiting illness.
How to Start the Conversation
If you love or care for an LGBT person, use the following questions to start the conversation. Then help take the necessary steps to ensure his/her wishes are honored:
- “Who do you want to make medical decisions for you if you are unconscious or are otherwise unable to speak or decide for yourself?” Appoint a healthcare decision maker or medical power of attorney; complete a state-recognized advance directive.
- “What kind of care do you want to receive if medical treatments are no longer working? Where and how do you want to spend your final days?” Help your loved one complete a living will that spells out the types of medical and life-sustaining treatments he/she wants or doesn't want, like tube feedings and resuscitation.
- Give these documents to healthcare providers and family.
There is a wealth of information and state-specific legal forms on the Internet to help start this discussion. Try:
Some LGBT people believe end-of-life care is out of the question because it means inviting strangers into their world. If your loved one wishes to receive care at home, you both may have concerns about the beliefs and behavior of the hospice care team that visits your home, fearing discrimination and a lack of understanding. Dealing with someone who is insensitive toward LGBT relationships can make an already difficult situation even harder.
Talk to your loved one about his or her desires. When you contact hospice or home healthcare agencies, ask them about their policies on caring for LGBT patients. VITAS—and most hospice providers—are very accepting of diverse lifestyles, include life partners in all decisions and train their staffs accordingly. But it never hurts to be sure.
VITAS supports equal rights and benefits for all, no matter one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.