New Guide To Help New Yorkers Plan End Of Life Care

Attorney General Spitzer today released a new guide to help New Yorkers ensure their personal health care decisions are known and honored at the end of life if they are unable to speak for themselves.

The guide - - Planning Your Health Care In Advance: How To Make End-Of-Life Wishes Known And Honored - - describes steps that may be taken under state law to accept or refuse medical treatments at the end of life and ensure that medical decisions remain in the hands of loved ones or other trusted people. In New York State, the best way to ensure that health care wishes are honored is to use one or more written documents - a Health Care Proxy, a Living Will or a Do Not Resuscitate Order - sometimes collectively referred to as advance directives.

"The decision to accept or reject medical treatment, including life-sustaining procedures, is an intensely personal matter," said Attorney General Spitzer. "This guide helps people understand their rights under the law."

Under federal and state law, competent persons have the right to accept or refuse medical treatment. But, in New York State, without legal authority, no one, not even a family member, has the right to make medical decisions on behalf of their loved ones if they become incompetent due to illness or injury. One notable exception is a recently enacted state law that applies only to persons with mental retardation and gives guardians of such individuals the authority to refuse life-prolonging treatment on their behalf.

Planning Your Health Care in Advance provides a detailed description of the legal rights extended to New Yorkers under different types of advance directives. The guide also includes sample forms and instructions on how to fill out such directives, information on pain management, hospice care, and organ donation, and information on Powers of Attorney whereby consumers can enlist the help of trusted people to handle their financial and other important matters. A statewide resource directory with helpful phone numbers is included.

The Attorney General also offered the following consumer tips on advance directives:

  • In New York State, individuals have the right to execute Advance Directives such as a Health Care Proxy, a Living Will, or a Do Not Resuscitate Order

  • Under New York law, hospitals and nursing homes are required to inform patients before admission about advance directives and let them know whether or not they will be able to honor their wishes to accept or refuse life-prolonging treatment. If an individual is already admitted and the institution cannot honor those wishes, the institution is required to transfer that individual to a facility that will;
  • Advance directives can help individuals make their health care wishes known, including their desire to continue or end life-prolonging treatment, should they be unable to make decisions themselves;
  • In New York State, forms for all types of Advance Directives - a Health Care Proxy, a Living Will, Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) - are free; and can be obtained from numerous sources including the Attorney General’s website; and,
  • Individuals can revise or cancel their Health Care Proxy, Living Will or Do Not Resuscitate Order at any time.
  • Planning Your Health Care in Advance: How to Make End-Of-Life Wishes Known And Honored was primarily researched and written by Rashmi Vasisht, Director, Policy and Research, Health Care Bureau with assistance from Soonmatee Ramsahai, Robert Senska and Galen Kirkland.
  • To obtain copies of the guide and advance directive forms with instructions, visit www.ag.ny.gov or call the Attorney General’s Office Health Care Helpline 1-800-771-7755, Option 3, to request a printed copy of the guide.

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