An interesting editorial appeared in this Sunday’s New York Times concerning end-of life decisions in New York (where I practice). I think I’ll let Eliot Spitzer sum up the current law on the subject:
…under current New York law, no one, not even a family member, has the right to decide about your medical treatment if you are unable to do so, unless you have given them the legal authority to make decisions for you or leave clear and convincing evidence of your treatment wishes. (full text and citations here)
You got that? So if you told everybody you know that you would NEVER want to be hooked up to machines, and then you are hit by a car and become comatose, you WILL BE hooked up to machines! Period! And nobody CARES that everyone overheard you say this over and over.
“Oh, but you should have signed a health care proxy.” Yeah, well, that isn’t reality. I’m 35 and I have never thought about doing that. AND I’M A DOCTOR!
This situation in New York is different than many other states. So why would a forward-thinking state like New York, home to a great metropolis, be so backward on their thinking here? (Here’s a clue… most of the New York State Senate are Republicans.)
A bill floating in the Senate right now, the Family Healthcare Decisions Act, championed by Eliot Spitzer, could put decisions back into the hands of family members, but as the New York Times tells us “Semate Republicans are worried about same sex partners being named surrogates. Abortion rights activists are worried about pregnant comatose patients.” Preganant comatose patients? Are you kidding me??? How many of those could there be??? Is that a good reason to block the ENTIRE legislation?
Being a physician who has attended to so many situations where patients’ wishes are not fully known, and all kinds of ethical dilemmas occur (including conflicts of interest among family members), it would be nice to eliminate ONE of the obstacles. I hope the Senate can finally put aside stone-age thinking and face the reality of end-of-life decision-making… it ain’t pretty.