The New York Civil Liberties Union today applauded the New York State Senate for passing the Family Health Care Decisions Act – major legislation that protects medical privacy and personal autonomy by ensuring that incapacitated individuals receive the medical treatment they would choose, even if incapable of expressing that choice.
“This bill provides a more rational and humane approach to providing medical care when a loved one becomes incapacitated,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The Family Health Care Decisions Act empowers families and protects the right of all New Yorkers to make the health care decisions they want. The governor should quickly sign this bill into law.”
Every year some 70,000 New Yorkers suffer a catastrophic health crisis and have no medical directive regarding their medical treatment. The Family Health Care Decisions Act amends public health law to allow a family member, domestic partner or close friend to make medical decisions in those cases, ensuring that medical decisions respect the wishes of the incapacitated person.
New York’s current law makes it so difficult to appoint a surrogate to an incapacitated person that patients are often subjected to intrusive, painful and futile medical treatment – even after family members have requested that it be stopped. Even when an incapacitated person’s wishes regarding treatment have been previously memorialized or verbalized before multiple witnesses, long litigation may be required before a patient’s wishes may be honored.
More than 10 years ago, a New York State Task Force comprised of nationally recognized, nonpartisan experts – health care providers, patients' rights advocates, clergy, attorneys and bio-ethicists – issued recommendations that would bring New York law on health care decision-making into line with the majority of states. New York and Missouri are the only two states in the country that do not have laws or procedures that govern health care and end-of-life decisions for individuals who lack decision-making capacity because of illness or injury.