Commentary: NY's Health Care Proxy

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We’ve all heard many times this week that one lesson from the Terry Schaivo case is to have a living will or proxy so there is no doubt about your wishes.

But WNYC’s Brian Lehrer warns that’s harder to do in New York than in most other states.

New York’s health care proxy law was passed in 1990, and is one of the most conservative laws of its kind in the country. Navah Harlow, Director of the Center for Ethics in Medicine at Beth Israel Hospital Center counsels families facing end of life issues.

Clip Summary: In NY State… medical proxies do not cover nutrition or hydration.

In other words, a feeding tube is not considered a medical device under New York State law, so a general proxy allowing your loved one to make all medical decisions will not allow them to have a feeding tube removed.

Clip Summary:… However… compromise under law allows you to authorize proxy to make explicit nutrition and hydration authorization on the proxy form.

The same applies to a living will. If you simply write that you do not want to be kept alive artificially, that does not cover removal of a feeding tube. You should specify that, if that’s what you want.

Politically, the Schaivo case seems likely to spark a new round of culture wars legislation in state capitals around the country. Ironically, the very “blue” state of New York is likely to be held up as a model by the religious right and others who want to make it harder for feeding tubes to be removed. Jade Henricks of the religious conservative Family Research Council

Clip Summary… certainly, nutrition hydration, we don’t consider that extraordinary means.

Me: it’s because you believe only God can take a life?

Henricks: Basically that’s accurate

But at the same time, hospital bioethicist Harlow says the Schaivo drama may inspire New York lawmakers to go the other way.

Clip Summary: There is a law being considered in Albany, maybe they’ll finally pass a bill called … The Family Decisionmaking Act… which would bring NY into line with most other states

So the policy debate inspired by the Schaivo case has not ended with her death. In some ways, it’s just beginning. But if you’re New Yorker, it’s even more important than in most places to be clear on what the law is now.

By the way, some companies are now trying to take advantage of the Schaivo case by selling proxy forms. But they are widely available for free.

In NY, contact the state Bar Association or Health Department by phone or on the web.