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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A new Utah law is intended to make it easier for health-care providers to honor the wishes of people who can't speak for themselves while nearing death.
The law, which starts Jan. 1, reduces the paperwork for life-or-death decisions from three forms to one and allows people to choose someone to speak on their behalf in an emergency.
It also allows people to choose treatment in certain situations and decline it in others.
Unlike current law, it does not require a person to be "terminally ill or in a persistently vegetative state." Proponents said that's important because people may need the help of a decision-maker without being in that condition.
The new law also says a health-care provider can withdraw from a case for "reasons of conscience." And those who follow the directive of the incapacitated person are protected from civil or criminal liability.
A guide will be distributed to describe the choices.
"'Don't keep me alive on machines' may be what you want if you needed mechanical support such as a ventilator to keep you alive for the rest of your life," the guide says. "But if being on a ventilator for a few days would let you go home from the hospital, breathing on your own and as healthy as you were before you were hospitalized, you might want to be kept alive on machines until you are better.
"Some people live satisfying lives even when they depend on machines," the guide says.
The law was the result of work by dozens of people involved in aging and health-care issues, said Maureen Henry, executive director of the Utah Commission on Aging.
Henry said advances in medical technology had outpaced the old law.
The law provides more choices and also explains that picking an agent isn't required and neither is filling out the form. The law also sets penalties for anyone who forges, alters or destroys a health-care directive.
Information from: Deseret Morning News
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)