Updates from the Committee on Health

Family Health Care Decisions Act Signed into Law
Victory for Patients and Families After 17-Year Fight
March 16, 2010

Each year, about 75,000 people die in a New York hospital without a health care proxy and lacking the ability to make their own health care decisions. Today, Governor Paterson signed the Family Health Care Decisions Act into law, enabling a patient’s family member to make health care decisions when the patient is unable to do so. The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried and Senator Thomas K. Duane, passed both houses with overwhelming support.

“It has taken 17 years of tortuous struggle to get to this day,” said a jubilant Assembly Member Gottfried. “It has been a long effort to overcome the technical, ethical, religious, and political hurdles of this issue. I applaud Governor Paterson, Senator Duane, Senator Hannon, and an army of health care and patient advocates, medical ethicists, religious leaders, and others who helped make this happen.” Mr. Gottfried first introduced the bill, A. 7729-D, in 1993, when it was submitted by the Governor’s Task Force on Life and the Law and then-Governor Mario Cuomo.

“New York now joins 48 other states in giving legal authority to a spouse, domestic partner, or other family member to make health care decisions when the patient lacks the capacity to make those decisions and did not sign a health care proxy,” said Gottfried. “Family members will now be able to honor their loved one’s wishes and stand up for their best interests.”

“Patients should not be denied appropriate treatment, or be subjected to burdensome treatments that violate their wishes, values, or religious beliefs,” Gottfried added. “That’s the point of the new law.”

“The Family Health Care Decisions Act was supported by groups from the NY Civil Liberties Union to the NY State Right to Life Committee, but it was still tangled in a legislative thicket for years. Amid all the turmoil of Albany, this year we finally broke through,” Gottfried said.

The new law was supported by:

  • 1199/SEIU
  • AARP
  • Alzheimer’s Association
  • American Cancer Society
  • American College of Physicians of NY
  • American Heart Association
  • Association of the Bar of the City of NY
  • Cerebral Palsy Association of NYS
  • Consumers Union
  • Continuing Care Leadership Coalition
  • Empire State Pride Agenda
  • Excellus BlueCross/BlueShield
  • Family Planning Advocates of NY
  • Friends & Relatives of the Institutionalized Aging (FRIA) of NY
  • Gay Men’s Health Crisis
  • Greater NY Hospital Association
  • Healthcare Association of NYS
  • Hospice and Palliative Care Association of NYS
  • Interagency Council of Mental Retardation and Development Disabilities Agencies
  • Medical Society of the State of NY
  • Mental Health Association of NYS
  • NY Academy of Medicine
  • NY Assoc. of Homes and Services for the Aging
  • NY Civil Liberties Union
  • NYS Academy of Family Physicians
  • NYS Bar Association
  • NYS Breast Cancer Network
  • NYS Family Decisions Coalition
  • NYS Health Facilities Association
  • NYS Nurses Association
  • NYS Right to Life Committee
  • Statewide Senior Action Council
  • Visiting Nurse Service of NY
  • Westchester End-of-Life Coalition
  • Women’s Bar Association of NY