How the Terrence Higgins Trust helped shape healthcare decision making today

Let us not forget the importance of those who have gone before us in breaking down barriers and building a future of equality in the LGBTQ+ community.

Least not are the monumental changes brought about by the Advanced Directives and Living Wills Movement in the 1980’s, which was pushed to the forefront by the Terrence Higgins Trust in the UK, leading to what we now know as Health & Welfare Lasting Powers of Attorney.

Historically, prior to the introduction of Advanced Directives, Living Wills and the Health & Welfare Lasting Powers of Attorney, if a person was in extreme poor health, medical professionals would only consult and liaise with their legal relatives. In the 80s and 90s, same sex couples were not recognised as having any form of legal relationship. Furthermore, prior to the introduction of Advanced Directives and Living Wills, there was no formal way to a make a Patient’s healthcare wishes known in case of an accident or serious illness.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, HIV gripped the nation and the ability to make healthcare wishes known became more important than ever. The Terrence Higgins Trust, in conjunction with the Kings College London, therefore sought to promote the benefits of a new concept originating in the US of Living Wills. In 1992 these were rolled out to 20,000 people in the UK and were mainly favoured by men in their 30s and 40s. Since then, this area has grown and has developed into what we now know as Health & Welfare Lasting Powers of Attorney.

A Health & Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney is a legal deed which sets out a person’s wishes and feelings, and also appoints “Attorneys” to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. The appointed Attorney can be anyone, and is typically the person in whom you trust the most to make difficult social and medical decisions for you. The Health & Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney even tackles the difficult topic of what should happen in the event that life sustaining treatment is required. These documents are now enshrined in law and are the bedrock on which healthcare decisions are made and are legal documents widely recognised across the healthcare profession.

The benefit of a Health & Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney, not only for the LGBTQ+ community but for all, is that those closest to us are no longer discriminated against for not being a legal relative at what is often the most vulnerable time of our life’s.

It is without doubt that if the Terrence Higgins Trust had not taken steps to promote and develop the Living Wills in the way that they did, these changes, that now benefit the whole of our society, would not have occurred. The Terrence Higgins Trust continues its good work amongst those living with HIV and has also extended its reach and is continually evolving according to the needs of the general population

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