Bioethics Blogs

New Jersey Senate Resolution Urging Hospitals to Notify Next of Kin When Patients Lack Capacity

Yesterday, the New Jersey Senate passed Resolution 126.  It urges hospitals to establish protocols for notifying next of kin when treating patients who lack decision-making capacity.

While certainly uncontroversial, it is surprising that such a resolution was thought to be necessary or useful.  Were families not being notified when incapacitated patients were in the hospital?

BE IT RESOLVED by the Senate of the State of New Jersey:

1.    Each general hospital licensed in this State is respectfully urged to establish and implement standards, protocols, and procedures for identifying a patient’s next of kin and notifying them, when appropriate, that the patient has been admitted to the hospital.

2.    Copies of this resolution, as filed with the Secretary of State, shall be transmitted to the Department of Health and to the chief administrator of each general hospital licensed in New Jersey.

Here is the legislative purpose from the Resolution:

WHEREAS, Patients have a fundamental right to make their own determinations as to health care and treatment, including the right to have their preferences respected if they are unable to make their own decisions because they are unconscious, unable to communicate, or have a mental impairment or disability; and

WHEREAS, Although health care providers must respect a patient’s fundamental right to privacy, patients can derive great benefit from the companionship, comfort, and support of their friends and family as they undergo treatment for illness or injury; and

WHEREAS, Accidental injury or sudden illness which leaves a person unable to communicate can cause great anxiety for their loved ones when they do not know what has happened to the person or they find themselves unable to contact the person; and

WHEREAS, Safe and effective treatment depends on obtaining the best possible information as to a patient’s health condition, whether the patient is taking any medications, and whether there are other facts which could impact the provision of health care, particularly in an emergency.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.