Times Union: Who speaks for those who can't?

Thomas K. Duane

March 03, 2010

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.

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