All Australians should have equal rights in health. However, not everyone may be respectful and discrimination still occurs. You may feel anxious or distressed about making decisions and planning for your future. If you, your partner, or someone close to you have a life-limiting illness, part of your care is affirming your individual identity and story, your relationships and needs. If sexuality is an important part of your identity, then it should also be an important part of your care.
Health professionals may not be aware that you are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Intersex. You may not come out to someone you don’t know or feel comfortable with. You may not feel that you need to. Some health professionals may also not be comfortable with this information.
If you choose to disclose your sexuality to a health professional you are placing your trust in them. Health professionals should be aware of the support that you need. You do still need to tell them what is important to you though. Health professionals have a duty of care to educate and advise you regarding your health. They don’t have the right to criticise your choices.
All or some of your family may be aware and accepting of your sexuality. You may have family surrounding you, who are relatives or who are a combination of relatives and friends.
You may also have family or friends who are unaware or unaccepting of your sexuality or lifestyle choices. This can have an impact at the end of life. You will need to have practical support networks, as it may be impossible to stay at home once you need more help. Sometimes this is an opportunity to make contact, and reconcile with family, old friends or children.
You may not be open about your sexuality. Your family and friends may not be aware of your relationships. A long-term friendship may not be recognised for what it is. This may mean that you or your partner may not be openly acknowledged. You may be unknowingly, and even knowingly, excluded. Health professionals should recognise your partner’s rights in end-of-life decision making, even if your family are opposed or unaware.
When someone is very ill
If you are making decisions your choice to have your partner advocate for you may not be recognised by your family. This can be difficult and distressing.
Same sex partners may not be recognised either socially or legally. This could be in respect to carers leave, as next of kin in decision making, or in rights to benefits after you or your partner has died. Having a power of attorney will help make sure that your partner can participate in decision making. Having a will is essential as your partner may not have any rights without one. Your estranged family may have next of kin rights over and above a loved partner. This is particularly true if your partner does not live with you.
When someone who is seriously ill has died the partner left behind is bereaved. This is difficult if the relationship was not acknowledged. They may not be able to openly grieve. It is important that same-sex partners are offered the same support that heterosexual partners would receive. They should not have to ask for it when they are already distressed.