New York State Revises Its Health Care Proxy Form to Simplify, Encourage Advance Directives

New Form also will Help Increase Organs, Tissue Available for Life-Saving Transplants

Albany, February 21, 2002 – New Yorkers who have specific wishes about end-of-life care, including whether they want to become organ and/or tissue donors, are urged to make their intentions clear by signing an updated version of the State's Health Care Proxy form, New York State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. said today.

The new simplified forms are available on the State Health Department's web site (www.nyhealth.gov), as well as in hard copy. The revised version includes space for individuals to note instructions about organ donation along with other vital health care decisions to be made by their "proxy" – an agent designated to act on a patient's behalf, should he or she become incapacitated.

"The Health Care Proxy form is designed to clearly inform health care providers about an individual's wishes in terms of extraordinary or 'heroic' medical measures, and to identify who will make decisions for the patient in the absence of specific directives," Dr. Novello said. "Individual patients will always be the final and most important decision-makers in their medical treatment. But, in a crisis, the Health Care Proxy form allows a family member or close friend to ensure that the patient's wishes are followed."

For more than 10 years, the State's Health Care Proxy form has been giving New Yorkers assurance that they will remain in control of their medical treatment, even when they can no longer make their wishes known. By signing a Health Care Proxy form, a person appoints a trusted agent, such as a family member or close friend, to make health care decisions on his or her behalf. Individuals can inform their proxy agents verbally or in writing about desired end-of-life care; include specific instructions on the proxy form about what measures are and are not to be taken, and put limits on the agent's authority to make decisions on their behalf.

Legislation signed by Governor George Pataki specified that Health Care Proxy forms be revised to allow New Yorkers to include their instructions about organ and tissue donation, to help increase the supply of organs and tissue available for transplantation.

More than 75,000 people nationwide, including nearly 7,600 New Yorkers, are waiting for organ transplants. 20,000 New Yorkers – many of them burn and cancer patients – are among the tens of thousands of Americans who need tissue transplants before they can resume full, productive lives.

In addition to changing the Health Care Proxy forms to help increase the availability of donor organs, in June 2000 Governor Pataki created the New York State Organ and Tissue Donor Registry so that individuals can make sure their loved ones will be informed of their wish to donate. The New York State Organ and Tissue Donor Registry is a unique collaboration between the DOH, DMV and the transplant community. The vast majority of New Yorkers enroll by checking a box on their driver license or non-driver identification card application or renewal form. This creates a confidential computerized listing that is transferred electronically to a secure database maintained by the Health Department.

Along with checking a box on their driver license or non-driver ID card or enrolling online, New Yorkers may also enroll in the New York State Organ and Tissue Donor Registry by sending a Uniform Donor registry enrollment form to an organ procurement organization or the State Health Department. Already, more than 267,000 individuals have enrolled as potential donors.

"Whether the issue is end-of-life care or organ donation, making your wishes clear is crucial. Even if you have joined the Organ Donor Registry, signing the Health Care Proxy form is the best way to help your loved ones make difficult decisions during an intensely emotional time," Dr. Novello said.

Completing a Health Care Proxy form does not require consultation with an attorney, and signed earlier versions remain valid. Health Care Proxy forms should be checked periodically to assure that they remain current and the individual's wishes have not changed.

Additional information about the Health Care Proxy form, along with the forms, can be downloaded from the State Health Department's web site at www.nyhealth.gov (select "Information for Consumers"). New Yorkers may also join the State's Organ and Tissue Donor Registry online. To request hard copy versions of forms, write: Publications, Box 2000, Albany, NY 12220.

2/21/02–19 OPA