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June 15, 2010

STATE BAR ASSOCIATION'S HEALTH LAW SECTION LAUNCHES NEW ONLINE RESOURCE TO GUIDE NEW YORKERS THROUGH THE FAMILY HEALTH CARE DECISIONS ACT

New Info Center Provides the Public, Health Care Professionals and Policymakers With Comprehensive Information About Decision-Making for Patients Who Become Incapacitated   

The Health Law Section of the New York State Bar Association has launched an informative resource center on the State Bar's website designed to help New Yorkers understand new rules allowing family members to make critical health care and end-of-life decisions for patients who are unable to make their wishes known. The Family Health Care Decisions Act Information Center provides the public, health care professionals, advocates and lawmakers with up-to-date information regarding the new Family Health Care Decisions Act (FHCDA) that took effect on June 1, 2010.

The FHCDA Information Center website, located at www.nysba.org/fhcda, contains a wealth of important information, including the law's complete text, summaries of its key provisions, articles covering a wide variety of related topics, and materials from the New York State Department of Health. A frequently asked questions (FAQ) section edited by knowledgeable attorneys and health care professionals will provide guidance about the new law.  The website also will include a list serve to promote the exchange of information about the FHCDA.

"This new Information Center will be a critically important resource that can help families make informed medical decisions about the proper care of their loved ones," said State Bar Association President Stephen P. Younger (Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP of New York City). "I want to thank the members of the Health Law Section, including past chairs Robert Swidler and Ed Kornreich, for their outstanding work in creating such an invaluable tool and helping facilitate the swift implementation of this new law."

The FHCDA, recently signed by Governor Paterson, establishes guidelines that give families and legal guardians, in consultation with medical professionals, the legal right to make critical health care and end-of-life decisions for their loved ones who are incapacitated. It also contains many safeguards to protect the patient's interests, including correcting provisions in New York law that deny family members the legal authority to consent or object to medical treatment for a patient who lacks decision-making capacity.

Under prior New York law, life-sustaining treatment could be withdrawn or withheld only if the patient signed a health care proxy or left "clear and convincing evidence" of wishes to forego treatment.  Without these, no one - not the patient's family, not the patient's physician, not even a court - had the authority to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment for the patient. Since most people never sign a proxy or leave this kind of evidence, some incapacitated patients were denied appropriate treatment, while others were subjected to treatments that violate their wishes, values, or religious beliefs.

Robert N. Swidler, Esq., is Editor of the FHCDA Information Center.  Mr. Swidler, who also is Editor of the State Bar's Health Law Journal, is General Counsel at Northeast Health in Troy, NY.

The members of the Editorial Board of the new Information Center are:

* Kathy Faber-Langendoen, MD, Medical Alumni Endowed Professor of Bioethics and Professor of Medicine, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse;

* Jack P. Freer, MD, Professor of Medicine, University at Buffalo and Medical Director, Ethics, Kaleida Health, Buffalo;

* Hon. Richard N. Gottfried, Chair, New York State Assembly Health Committee;
 
* Jonathan Karmel, Esq., Attorney, New York State Department of Health, Albany;

*  Deborah Korzenik, Esq., Senior Associate General Counsel, Continuum Health Partners, Inc.

* Tracy E. Miller, Esq., President, Health Policy and Education Initiatives, LLC, and former Executive Director, New York State Task Force on Life and the Law; and
 
* Salvatore J. Russo, Esq., Acting General Counsel, New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.

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The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Founded in 1876, State Bar programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.