By Chris Haring

Advance directives are exceedingly crucial for older LGBTQ individuals and those living with HIV, ensuring their rights and dignity at the end of life.

While society has made significant strides in advocating for the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals, older members of this community, especially those living with HIV, continue to face unique challenges, particularly regarding end-of-life care. As Alex George’s recent story for The Body highlights, advance directives can prove especially beneficial in ensuring their dignity and rights in these critical moments.

Advance directives help ensure the rights of individuals and their partners

An advance directive is a legal document that outlines a person’s medical treatment preferences and appoints a trusted individual to make decisions on their behalf if they cannot do so themselves. For LGBTQ+ individuals, this is crucial to ensure that their partners and chosen family members can make decisions and be present during critical times.

Without these documents, officials can overlook LGBTQ+ individuals’ wishes, resulting in excluded domestic partners when biological family members, who may not respect their identity or desires, are given authority. This planning is especially critical given historical and ongoing discrimination.

HIV’s impact is seen in many homes directly via The Real World in 1994

In 1994, Pedro Zamora’s introduction to America through MTV’s “The Real World: San Francisco” proved pivotal in raising awareness of the effects of HIV on both patients and their loved ones. As one of the first openly gay men living with HIV on national television, his story humanized the epidemic for viewers. Although Pedro died from AIDS-related complications before the season’s final episode aired, his courage and advocacy helped change perceptions about HIV and those affected by it.

Despite the considerable social progress since Pedro’s time, many LGBTQ+ individuals living with HIV still face significant barriers, particularly in healthcare settings. One of the most pressing issues is denying access to loved ones during critical moments, often due to the absence of advance directives.

Three decades ago, Pedro’s partner, Sean Sasser, experienced this firsthand when Zamora’s family excluded him from hospital visits and funeral arrangements. Although marriage equality has since passed, too many unwed couples still face similar barriers.

National Healthcare Decisions Day is a reminder to express your healthcare wishes

National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), observed every April 16, serves as a vital reminder of the importance of advance care planning and encourages people to express their healthcare wishes. 

As Dr. Peg Sandeen, CEO of Death with Dignity, notes, NHDD is a day to reflect on your life and last wishes, ensuring that your healthcare decisions are respected. 

Sherrill Wayland, M.S.W., added that these discussions should happen early: “It is so important that we have these conversations in advance to ensure that your wishes are followed through the end of your life.”

We urge everyone to start planning today with our LifeFile. This comprehensive tool helps ensure your wishes are honored at the end of your life and that loved ones of your choosing have the information they need to take care of your affairs when you die.