Vitale Bill To Give Families Authority To Consent To Medical Research Approved In Senate

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would authorize certain persons to give surrogate informed consent to medical research for a family member who is not able to give that consent was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 33-1.

“In many cases, drug trials and experimental medical procedures offer a patient’s best hope of recovery,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, Chair of the Senate Health Committee. “However, many of these treatments are offered on a limited basis, and if a patient cannot provide consent, they might lose out on the opportunity to participate. This bill allows for family consent in certain cases, so that patients don’t miss out on life-saving procedures.”

The bill, S-1757, entitled the “Access to Medical Research Act,” would authorize adult family members or health care representatives empowered by an advance directive for health care to make certain medical decisions for an incapacitated patient in regards to medical research. The bill would establish a hierarchy for those people who can give informed consent, depending on whether the patient is receiving non-emergency or emergency room care. The bill would also provide that a family member or authorized representative must exercise substituted judgment based on the wishes and values, to the extent known, of the patient and act in the patient’s best interests.

“When a patient hasn’t registered an advanced directive, decisions impacting medical care often fall to a family member,” said Senator Vitale. “We’ve already recognized that family members can make health care decisions in proxy of a patient in certain situations, and this bill simply expands that ability to include potentially life-saving medical research and drug trials. When time is of the essence, family members need to have the power to authorize whatever health care response best fits the wishes of the patient.”

“This bill gives a voice to a patient who wants to say, ‘Do everything you can to save my life’,” added Senator Vitale.

The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration of Senate amendments, before going to the Governor to be signed into law.

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