UB Center for Clinical Ethics and Humanities in Health Care

Bioethics Law in New York State

Several New York State appellate cases with important implications for bioethics will be posted on this site. Thanks to Professor Tony Szczygiel for his help in making this material available and for providing case histories for the cases.

Health care providers, patients and families face a number of unique challenges in New York State. Case law regarding surrogate decision making and life-sustaining treatement is particularly problematic. Court of Appeals rulings have required "clear and convincing" evidence that an incapcitated patient had specifically refused the treatment in question. The Court indicated that advance directives, including a Living Will can satisfy this requirement, if it is sufficiently specific.

The New York State Task Force on Life and the Law proposed legislative solutions to deal with this and other related dilemmas. The first proposal enacted into law was the Do Not Resuscitate Law. The next proposal to be passed was the Health Care Proxy Law. The remaining proposal to meet the needs of New York in this area wass the Family Health Care Decisions Bill. This bill was intended to fill in the gaps left by the DNR and Proxy Laws, since it would permit surrogate decisions to be made for incapacitated patients who have not executed a proxy. Partial resolution occured in 2003 when the Health Care Decisions Act for Persons with Mental Retardation (HCDA)(HCDA) went into effect. This law permitted broader decision-making authority by guardians of mentally retarded persons under Article 17-A of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act. It was later amended to permit qualified friends and family members to act as "guardian," even when no legal (SCPA 17-A) guardian was appointed.

Finally, after 15 years, the Family Health Care Decisions Act was passed and went into effect in 2010. This law now permits surrogate decisionmaking for incapacitated patients who have not appointed a health care agent via a proxy. The rules regarding mentally retarded patients continue to be governed by the HCDA, and the overlapping laws are sometimes confusing. The best resource for sorting this out isw the NYS Bar Association's FHCDA Information Center.

The 1994 Task Force report: When Death is Sought; Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the Medical Context is available on-line via the Department of Health WWW Home Page.

The 1997 Supplement to
When Death is Sought; Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the Medical Context
is available on this site.

Last Revised: 03/27/11