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Lesbian Medical Rights

How to Protect Yourself and Your Family


In 1983 Sharon Kowalski was involved in a terrible car accident that left her brain-damaged and a quadriplegic. Kowalski and her partner Karen Thompson had been together 10 years, but were not out to their families. When Kowalski’s father learned her daughter was involved with a woman, he placed Sharon in nursing home and banned Karen from visiting her.

Thus ensued a seven-year court battle with Karen fighting Sharon’s parents for the right to bring Sharon home. Although Karen eventually won the battle, there are still no guarantees that lesbians will have access to their lovers in the event of illness or accident.

What are some things you can do to protect your rights?

No one wants to think about what would happen if they were to become disabled. Who will make your medical decisions? Or if you die, who will inherit your property? Unless you take the legal steps to protect yourself and your partner, the law will grant these rights to your biological relatives, no matter how long you have been with your partner. The only exceptions are if you are registered as domestic partners in California or have had a Civil Union in Vermont.

Living Will/Medical Directive

What do you want to happen if you become ill? Do you want every means tried to keep you alive or do you want only palliative care as you approach death? You can write a living will that specifies your wishes. You can obtain a copy of a Living Will document at most insurance companies, doctors offices and through the Lambda Legal Defense website.

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