Local News

New State Laws Take Effect

Posted October 1, 2007 1:26 p.m. EDT
Updated October 1, 2007 4:46 p.m. EDT

— A new law taking effect Monday requires doctors or other health providers to sign a form on which patients state whether they want medical treatment withdrawn when they are near death.

The law was approved after heated discussions this year in the General Assembly. Supporters say the law makes conveying a patient's end-of-life decisions easier, but opponents say the procedure is weighted toward withholding treatment.

The official directive on patient care that will have to be signed by a physician or other medical professional will be available for the public later in October.

"We're certainly moving forward on a fast track," said Drexdal Pratt, chief of the state Office of Emergency Management Services.

A resident of a retirement home in Cary said the information about end-of-life care is critical.

Walter Newman, 81, still sells long term care policies after his career in life insurance and said he is accustomed to planning. Newman said he gathered his family and doctors and lawyers for a discussion about what he wanted if he couldn't make a decision.

The new form is called Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment, which offers more options that the standard form that specifies how to handle cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

"It's more comprehensive," said Melanie Phelps, associate general counsel for the state medical society. "We are trying to give folks more control, even when they are no longer competent and no longer have the power to communicate."

Right-to-life groups and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh say the form appears to encourage withholding care.

"The forms themselves are slanted toward non-treatment," said state Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, who voted against the law. "It is true that you can change the forms to say whatever you want, but the standard form, which is what the vast majority of people will use, does not reflect the desire of many people to be treated."

Another law that took effect Monday repeals 2005 legislation that was designed to help chiropractor patients but was sullied by a plea agreement from former House Speaker Jim Black that linked the provision to cash payments he received from chiropractors.

The old law ensured insurance co-payments for chiropractic services were no higher than for primary-care physician services. Lawmakers wanted it off the books for now after Black, D-Mecklenburg, pleaded guilty in February to taking thousands of dollars in cash from three chiropractors while pushing legislation that would help their industry.

Other new laws that began Monday included that:

  • Victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault, can change their names without disclosing the new names.
  • A heart symbol on a person's driver license equates to legal consent for organ donation.
  • Law enforcement is required to fingerprint anyone arrested on suspicion of driving with a revoked license or while impaired.
  • Private labs are required to turn over evidence that is helpful to defendants, such as DNA test results.
  • Homeowners associations can't ban solar panels on homes.
  • Smoking is banned nursing homes and other places where older people receive care.