Family Health Care Decisions Act Gives Voice To Those Who Cannot Speak
Hooked up to a ventilator. Unable to communicate. Determined by a physician to be incapacitated and incapable of making decisions. No health care proxy. No directive on the witholding of life-sustaining measures.
What happens next?
Today, in New York, removal from life support is generally forbidden absent the "clear and convincing" evidence from the patient as to his/her intent.
Next week, that quandry is likely to change, after years and years of effort by caregivers and health care providers alike to give voice to the incapacitated through family, domestic partner, or court-appointed guardian.
The NYS Senate has passed the Family Health Care Decisions Act -- finally -- by an overwhelming vote of 55-3.
Now, if we could only get such bipartisanship on other significant -- or even seemingly insignificant -- measures that impact upon the lives and livelihoods of all New Yorkers.
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From the Albany Times-Union:
Who speaks for those who can't?
Bill permits kin, friends to make decisions for incapacitated loved ones
By JIMMY VIELKIND, Capitol bureau
ALBANY -- With the legislative session approaching its third month, lawmakers on Wednesday did something rare: They passed a piece of significant legislation that Gov. David Paterson has indicated he will sign.
The Senate approved the Family Health Care Decisions Act by an overwhelming bipartisan vote in a chamber not recently known for agreement. The bill was first introduced 17 years ago and was originally carried by Republicans who controlled the chamber.
If signed by Paterson, the bill would allow family and friends to be involved in health care decisions for loved ones who are determined by a physician to be incapacitated. Currently, state common law forbids the withdrawal of life support without the presence of "clear and convincing evidence" such as a health care proxy, do-not-resucitate order or living will.
"Unfortunately, only about 20 percent of people in our state sign health care proxies," said Sen. Tom Duane, D-Manhattan, the bill's sponsor. "This legislation will protect those people who are unable to make decisions for themselves, if they're in a hospital or in a nursing home."
Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-Long Island, said the measure makes more sense now as the population ages and baby boomers begin to enter nursing homes.
"We're going to face a lot of complications in years to come," Hannon said on the Senate floor. "When the idea of this law began, we didn't really talk about hospice, we didn't talk about palliative care, we didn't talk about end-of-life decision-making."
The bill is supported by the Alzheimer's Association, American Cancer Society, Hospital Association and New York City Bar Association.
Once a doctor determines a patient lacks decision-making capacity, a "surrogate" is selected from a court-appointed guardian, spouse or domestic partner, or adult son or daughter. That person then makes decisions about care going forward.
The Senate vote was 55-3. The bill passed the Assembly earlier this year.
An aide to Paterson indicated he would sign the measure once it's delivered to his desk.