Healthcare Directives

What Happens to My New York Living Will If I'm Pregnant?

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What Happens to My New York Living Will If I'm Pregnant?

What Happens to My New York Living Will If I'm Pregnant?

Usually, doctors and other health care providers must follow the health care wishes you express in a Living Will or Advance Directive. But many states have passed laws saying this rule doesn't apply to pregnant women. If you live in a state with such a restriction (see below), medical providers may refuse to remove life support if you are pregnant.

Are State Laws Canceling Living Wills Valid?

The trouble with laws that cancel or restrict Living Wills in the event of pregnancy is that they may run afoul of the U.S. Constitution in two ways. In a variety of rulings, the U.S. Supreme court has stated that:

  • a woman has the right to decide whether to have children, and
  • every person has the right to direct their own medical care.

Because of this, if you're a woman who may become pregnant, it's a good idea to clearly state in your health care documents:

  • that you want your health care instructions to be canceled if you are pregnant, or
  • that you want your health care instructions to be carried out as written, even if your state's law forbids it.

Making your wishes clear provides the best chance that they will be honored during your pregnancy. Be aware, however, that if you live in a restrictive state and you don't want life support, your health care agent may have to fight hard to have your directions respected -- and that struggle may be unsuccessful. Let your agent know how strongly you feel and how far you'd want them to go to carry out your wishes.

Finding New York’s Law on Pregnancy and Living Wills 

Below, you’ll find a map describing the pregnancy law for Living Wills in your state. (Click on the map to view it larger at the Huffington Post.) After that, we provide links to each state's pregnancy statute so you can read the law itself. If your state isn't included in the list of statutes, that means it doesn’t have a law forbidding health care providers from withdrawing life support from pregnant women.

Remember the main point: No matter what your state’s law says, if you are a woman and there's a chance you could become pregnant, you should state in your Living Will or Advance Directive whether you want your document to remain effective in the event of your pregnancy. Be sure your health care agent is prepared to advocate for you if your wishes go against what your state’s law dictates. 


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