Public health law to require practitioners to discuss palliative care options

On August 13, 2010, New York State Public Health Law was amended and a new provision was created requiring an attending health care practitioner (a physician or nurse practitioner having primary responsibility for the care and treatment of a patient) to provide palliative care and end-of-life options to a terminally ill patient.  A person is considered terminally ill if the illness or condition can reasonably be expected to cause death within six months of diagnosis, regardless of whether the patient chooses treatment. The new provision goes into effect on February 9, 2011.

 Palliative care is defined as interdisciplinary end-of-life treatment, consultation with a patient and family members, prevention or relief of pain and suffering, and the enhancement of a patient’s quality of life, including hospice.  The attending health care practitioner must offer the patient information regarding palliative care and counseling options appropriate to the patient’s prognosis, legal rights and comprehension.  This information can be provided verbally or in writing and can be provided to a person having health care decision making authority for the patient.  Also, the health care practitioner can delegate another qualified professional to provide the information and counseling to the patient.

 When designating an agent to be your health care proxy, it is always a good idea to discuss your end-of-life wishes with him or her.  It can be a very difficult and emotional time for everyone involved.  Hope for the best but plan for the worst, and everything in between, when it comes to your estate planning and advance directives.