Health Care Decision Making

Published on May 20th, 2019

Memorandum of Opposition

 Re: S.5939 Rivera / A.730 Rosenthal
In relation to health care decision-making 

The above-referenced bill would remove an important safeguard currently in the Public Health Law that sets a reasonable and prudent standard that physicians and hospitals must observe when making decisions for individuals who lack capacity. This bill proposes to lower a decision-making standard currently found in our state’s Health Care Proxy Law (Article 29-C Public Health Law). 

Under current law, the reasonably known wishes of the patient must be ascertained prior to an agent making decisions regarding medically-assisted nutrition and hydration. This bill would repeal this standard and allow for the ‘substituted judgment’ of the health care agent, effectively stripping the patient of the ability to have their medical decisions respected by giving the power to make those decisions to a third-party surrogate. Removing this protection will prove most detrimental to the powerless, isolated, vulnerable incapacitated population. 

Instead of bringing the decision-making standard of the Family Health Care Decisions Act of 2010 up to match the standard found in the Health Care Proxy Law, this bill lowers the standard in the proxy law, which we believe will negatively impact many patients’ ability to receive life-sustaining medically-assisted nutrition and hydration, which provides ordinary nourishment. 

The New York State Catholic Conference has for many years been actively engaged on the issue of health care decision-making and has long advocated for respect for each and every human life, including those who are disabled, vulnerable and incapacitated. To ensure appropriate legal protection for all persons who are unable to make their own healthcare decisions, particularly regarding life-or-death medical decisions, we strongly oppose this legislation and urge that it be defeated.