Reflections on LGBTQ+ Pride and the End-of-Life Options Movement
Jun 2, 2023 LGBTQ
Every year, Compassion & Choices celebrates Pride Month in recognition and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. The end-of-life options movement was born out of the same principles and values as the LGBTQ+ rights movement, including bodily autonomy and person-directed healthcare. From Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act to allowing same-sex partners to act as healthcare proxies for one another, the two movements have always been intertwined.
Many Compassion & Choices supporters, advocates and staff note that the HIV/AIDS crisis was the catalyst for their involvement in the end-of-life options movement. Alynne Hammer, a storyteller who died this year, shared:
The AIDS crisis is how medical aid in dying first appeared on my radar. So it only seems appropriate to write about this during Pride Month. We promised back then that we would never forget. And we never have. It had been a 35-year struggle when medical aid in dying finally became authorized in California. All the work for aid in dying that I have done, every trek I took to the state capitol to get this passed into law, every presentation I’ve done, every paper I’ve written, I’ve done in honor and memory of all those who suffered so unnecessarily during the AIDS epidemic.
The LGBTQ+ community fought to bring dignity and compassion to people living and dying with AIDS through direct action — like protests, community organizing and caring for one another when no one else would. These principles inform so much of the advocacy seen today in the end-of-life options movement and beyond.
Advocacy for marriage equality was also informed by the LGBTQ+ community’s shared history. Michael Farmer, Compassion & Choices staff member, argues:
The movement for LGBTQ+ civil rights and equality is not just about marriage equality; on a deeper level it is about something much more than that; it is about bodily autonomy, having the option to choose your own destiny, and the ability to live your life according to your values.
The Respect for Marriage Act may have added federal protection for LGBTQ+ couples, but there are still roadblocks to equality. Religious healthcare institutions still have power over our healthcare decisions. Also, some members of the LGBTQ+ community may face discrimination in healthcare decision-making at the end of life or in death.
Compassion & Choices continues to advocate for everyone to be in control of their healthcare decisions at the end of life. Staff member Osha Towers discusses why this matters to them:
“End-of-life care matters to me because I've seen too many chosen families pushed aside and people buried as someone other than the person they lived as. Or the fear of being in a hospital and having someone speak for you that hasn't spoken to you in years. I want to make sure my community can keep itself safe and cared for all the way through the end of life.”