Bar News - July 7, 2006
Legislative Update: New Law Now Governs Do Not Resuscitate Orders
By: Carol Stamatakis
Advance Directives: Statutory forms to change January 1, 2007
Effective January 1, 2007, House Bill 656 revises and recodifies the statutes governing living wills and durable powers of attorney for health care. For the first time, the law also enacts a statutory framework for Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders.
The legislation was enacted to facilitate and modernize the processes for care-givers, patients, and agents related to advance directives. “It ensures patients will receive treatment when needed, but will not force them to receive unwanted medical procedures that will cause harm and not extend life,” says Senate Judiciary Chairman Joseph Foster (D-Nashua), one of the sponsors of the bill. The law also simplifies the forms, making completing them more user-friendly for the patient.
HB 656 is the first major overhaul of the statutes governing advance directives in over 15 years and was the result of many years of effort. In 1999, the Foundation for Healthy Communities, a statewide non-profit affiliated with NH Hospital Association, received a 3-year $450,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study and improve end-of-life health care through a multi-faceted educational effort. This effort brought together individuals and organizations from a variety of professions throughout the state for training on how to better assist people in advance care planning and to identify ways in which terminal care could be more responsive to the needs and wishes of patients.
Out of this effort a loosely organized coalition of legislators, health care providers, legal authorities, religious groups and advocates for seniors and people with disabilities worked diligently for over a year to review the existing New Hampshire statutes (and laws of other states) to identify areas in need of clarification or improvement and develop proposed legislation. The result of the coalition’s work, HB 656, was introduced in January 2005. It was studied and amended extensively by legislative committees prior to its passage in May of 2006. Governor John Lynch signed the bill into law on June 19.
Rep. Hilda Sokol (D-Hanover), a retired medical school professor, chaired the coalition and was the prime sponsor of HB 656. Shawn LaFrance, executive director of the Foundation for Healthy Communities, provided ongoing research and technical support to the coalition. The Foundation plans to reconvene the coalition to help educate professionals and the public about the new provisions.
In addition to Sokol and Foster, HB 656 was sponsored by Reps. Elizabeth Hager (R-Concord), Lee Hammond (D-Lebanon), James MacKay (R-Concord), Alida Millham (R-Gilford) and Sens. Bob Odell (R-Lempster) and Iris Estabrook (D-Durham).
Sokol hopes that HB 656 will engage more people in the process of considering and indicating to others what they want to happen at the end of life. “As a result of this legislation, there will be publicity and people will be encouraged to fill out advance directives,” she explains. “Having an advance directive eases potential conflict among family members and will help them avoid court proceedings when they are confused about or disagree over what the patient would want.”
Carol Stamatakis is director of planning for the NH State Council on Developmental Disabilities and chair of the NHBA Mental and Physical Disabilities Law Section. She is also a member of the Elder Law, Estate Planning and Probate Section. She served on the Advance Directives Task Force, convened in 2000 by the NH Partnership for End of Life Care, and, in 2004, served on the Healthcare Decisions Coalition that developed proposed legislation that became HB 656.