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The Family Health Care Decisions Act

Feeding tube system. Photo:

On March 16, 2010 Governor Paterson signed the Family Health Care Decisions Act. The Family Health Care Decisions Act (FHCDA) allows families to make medical decisions for their loved ones who lack capacity to make their own medical decisions.

Before this became effective here in New York State, it was a law that life sustaining treatment such as artificial hydration or artificial nutrition could not be withheld or withdrawn from a patient who lacks capacity to make their own medical decisions & there was no clear and convincing evidence stating otherwise. 

The FHCDA only applies to those that are in a hospital or long term care setting. It does not apply to persons who have developmental disabilities that reside in  a mental health facility. This act by no means replaces the use of advanced directives, especially the Health Care Proxy. Filling out a HCP is a vital part of making your wishes known to your family members in the event you can not do so. The FHCDA protects patients from having to kept on machines for an extended amount of time such as the case with Terri Schiavo & Nancy Cruzan.

It is still very important to speak with your family members about the kinds of treatments you want and the kinds of treatments that you don't want. This act helps ensure a persons quality of life and that their wishes are being honored. The FHCDA appoints surrogates to make major medical decisions for those who lack capacity. These surrogates can be: a legal guardian, spouse/domestic partner, children, siblings and/or close friend or other relative in order of priority. The surrogate will also be able to give consent for a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR). 

If a person who lacks capacity and does not have a surrogate the attending physician can act as a surrogate. For major medical decisions such as withholding or withdrawing treatment, the attending physician along with another physician can act as the surrogate for that person.





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