Phyllis and Del on their wedding day
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were issued a marriage license in 2004 when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered that same-sex couples could apply for them. Sadly, it was voided by the courts just a few months later. Phyllis implored the courts to reconsider:
Del is 83 years old and I am 79. After being together for more than 50 years, it is a terrible blow to have the rights and protections of marriage taken away from us. At our age, we do not have the luxury of time.
When the California Supreme Court did legalize gay marriage in June of 2008, Del and Phyllis were the very first gay couple married by Mayor Newsom.
Martin and Lyon had already been together for 55 years at the time of their marriage.
Del Martin died just two months later from complications from a bone fracture. Del was 87 years old and had been in failing health for some time. Because Del and Phyllis were legally married, when critical choices had to be made about Del's condition, Phyllis had the right to act in the best interests and wishes of her wife.
Unfortunately, there are now thousands and thousands of same sex couples in California who do not have that same right--one of the more than 1000 denied to them and which seems to get lost in the hysteria and just bizarre logic of those fighting against equal protection for all citizens.
There is now a site designed to help couples--both gay and straight--discuss the uncomfortable subject of end-of-life issues: Compassion & Choices:
Most Compassion & Choices supporters would eagerly bargain away a few days of extended life in an intensive care unit in exchange for final days spent at home, in relative comfort and meaningful communion with those they love. Such folks don’t adhere to the doctrine of redemptive suffering and would rather slip away peacefully if imminent dying would be otherwise prolonged and agonized.
Well, the evidence is in. Recent studies indicate the single most powerful thing a person can do to improve the chance for gentle dying is — simply and courageously — to talk about it.
Talk to whom? First and foremost, talk to your personal physician. It’s never too early for this conversation. This March an important study appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine. A large, multi-institutional study, it evaluated the quality of life at the end of life for people with advanced cancer.
Lo and behold! Those individuals who had discussed end-of-life values and preferences with their doctors experienced significantly less suffering in their final week of life. A significant reduction in intensive care hospitalizations and high technology interventions accounted for this desirable outcome. Not too surprising, the patients who had talked with their doctors, and who experienced a more peaceful, pain-free end of life, also received less costly care than those tethered to the tubes and machines meant to extend their lives.
But one finding is stunning enough to be a game-changer in end-of-life care. For all the suffering they inflicted and all the cost they incurred, the tubes and machines actually bought no life extension. None.
It's never an easy discussion to have, and it's more difficult when you must make clear to your doctor that you wish your partner (who has no legal status) to speak for you. C&C offers forms that gay couples may use to designate each other surrogate decision-makers as well.
At risk of being a downer, it's a conversation that you should have sooner than later, because not all of us are as lucky as to have 55 years with the love of our life.