HRC Blog

Death, Dignity and the Stonewall Generation

Post submitted by Mark Dann, Regional Campaign & LGBT Outreach Manager, Compassion & Choices

In 1994, Oregon voters went to the polls to pass the first Death with Dignity Act in our nation’s history. The Oregon law was a direct response to the AIDS crisis when so many were terminally ill and horribly suffering that many felt there needed to be better treatments and options at the end of life. As the Stonewall Generation ages, it is heartbreaking that after a lifetime of fighting to extend greater rights to future generations, they may face very restricted rights at the end of life.

A Death with Dignity law allows a mentally competent, terminally ill adult to request a prescription for self-administered medication to end their life in a humane and dignified way. Death with dignity should be part of an existing suite of options, such as palliative and hospice care, available at the end of life. Death with Dignity laws have now been adopted by Washington, Montana and Vermont, and we expect a growing number of states to pass Death with Dignity laws in the near future.

In the lead-up to the 1994 Oregon vote and in subsequent votes and court decisions, LGBT rights and the Death with Dignity movements have become intertwined. Both seek to expand personal liberty, dignity and freedom for people to make their own choices with their bodies and their lives as they see fit--which is why GLMA, Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality (the world's largest and oldest association of LGBT healthcare professionals) has endorsed Death with Dignity legislation in New Jersey and Massachusetts.

During the AIDS crisis, our community developed a strong network of caring and supportive doctors with whom all subjects were on the table in order to survive. These open and forthright conversations saved countless lives. As members of the LGBT community age, continuing these open conversations on end-of-life matters is critical to having a peaceful death.

As we know, aging can be particularly difficult for members of the LGBT community. Some may be estranged from family members, single and/or without dependents. When it comes time to discuss end-of-life treatments and options, it is critical for LGBT patients to have a solid relationship with their physicians, since their support network may be limited. Clear rules on death with dignity give patients and care providers assurance that they are operating clearly within the law.

Often at the end of life we must make decisions between what is sad and what is worse. A clear part of death with dignity is that we want to make sure people do not take matters into their own hands and die a violent death. LGBT patients may have to make healthcare decisions alone. Death with Dignity laws help people engage the heathcare system, examine all available options and not take up violent means to end their lives.

Many of us envision a quiet and peaceful death at home surrounded by love and our loved ones, rather than in a hospital surrounded by bad fluorescent lighting and hooked up to machines and tubes. Death with Dignity legislation is insurance against the worst.

The Stonewall Generation fought very hard so we can live our lives with dignity and honor. Now it is time to do the same for them. For more information about what you can do, visit Compassion and Choices to get connected to activists in your area.

 

 

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