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March 9, 2010

STATE BAR PRESIDENT APPLAUDS SENATE & ASSEMBLY EFFORTS TO GIVE FAMILY MEMBERS THE RIGHT TO MAKE HEALTH CARE DECISIONS ON BEHALF OF INCAPACITATED INDIVIDUALS

State Bar urges Gov. Paterson to sign the "Family Health Care Decisions Act" into law

The New York State Bar Association today commended the New York State Senate and Assembly for passing the "Family Health Care Decisions Act" (A.7729-D).  The State Bar also commended Gov. David Paterson's statement in support of the legislation.  The measure establishes guidelines that give families and legal guardians, in consultation with medical professionals, the legal right to make critical healthcare and end-of-life decisions for their loved ones who are incapacitated and unable to make their wishes known.

State Bar President Michael E. Getnick (Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore, LLP of Utica and of counsel to Getnick and Getnick of New York City) said, "The New York State Bar Association has long supported this measure and we applaud state legislators for their efforts to finally give families the right to make important medical decisions on behalf of their incapacitated loved ones.  We urge that the Family Health Care Decision Act be enacted into law to give New Yorkers the peace of mind that in times of great anguish, their family members will be treated with dignity in accordance with their wishes.

"The Association's Health Law Section has been a driving force on this issue.  Section Chair Ed Kornreich and former Chair Robert Swidler, along with others, should be commended for their commitment and work on this important public policy issue."

President Getnick stressed that the FHCDA contains many safeguards to protect the patient's interests. The FHCDA corrects 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.  Additionally, under current New York law, life-sustaining treatment can be withdrawn or withheld only if the patient signed a health care proxy or left "clear and convincing evidence" of wishes to forego treatment.  Otherwise, no one - not the patient's family, not the patient's physician, not even a court - has authority to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment for the patient. Most people never sign a proxy or leave this kind of evidence.  As a result, some incapacitated patients are denied appropriate treatment, while others are subjected to burdensome treatments that violate their wishes, values, or religious beliefs.

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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.