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Bill for simpler medical proxy becomes law

ALBANY - Families, guardians and partners now have the power to make medical decisions for incapacitated patients - even if the patient never signed paperwork detailing their wishes.

"For too long, family members have had not only to endure the suffering of their loved ones, but also the archaic nature of our law," Gov. David A. Paterson said before signing the bill into law Tuesday. "This is humane, this is ethical, this is the right legislation."

The District of Columbia and at least 35 states have such statutes, according to 2008 data from the American Bar Association. Most other states have case law precedent that grants family and others the authority to make medical decisions.

New York lawmakers say only 20 percent of patients have signed proxies, complicating decisions on care, especially for the terminally ill.Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) worked on the bill for many years as chairman of the Senate health committee, a post he relinquished in 2009. "This law is a critical step to ensuring the least suffering for patients and their family members," Hannon said Tuesday.

Hannon also said the law should be amended "to provide more rights for the family members of patients who lack the capability to make serious health care decisions during times of great urgency."

The measure requires decisions to be based on the patients' best interests, including their moral or religious beliefs.

Decisions to stop life-sustaining treatment will be authorized only when two doctors independently conclude that a patient isn't expected to live for six more months, regardless of whether treatment is provided. It could also be authorized when a patient is permanently unconscious or has an irreversible condition and providing treatment would cause suffering that would reasonably be deemed inhumane.

The measure, in descending order, lists potential decision-making surrogates as a court-appointed guardian, spouse or domestic partner, adult son or daughter, parent, adult brother or sister, close relative or friend. For minors, decisions would be made by their parents.

With staff reports

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