Frequently Asked Questions - Surrogate Decision-Making (SDMC)

What is the Surrogate Decision-Making Committee (SDMC) program?

The Surrogate Decision-Making Committee (SDMC) program is unique to New York State, and is the only program of its kind in the nation.  It is authorized to provide consent for non-emergency major medical treatment and end-of-life decision making on behalf of qualifying individuals. 

Who serves on the panels?

The SDMC consists of at least 12 volunteers appointed by the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs.  They serve on panels with four members.

The panels consist of one member from each of the following categories:

  • NYS Licensed Health Care Professional
  • NYS Attorney
  • Family Member or Former Client
  • Advocate for Persons with Mental Disabilities

To date, the program has trained and appointed over 1,600 volunteers to serve throughout New York State.

What determinations must they make?

After carefully reviewing the submitted Case Filing Forms, the Surrogate Decision-Making Panels will make as many as three decisions:

  • Determination of the patient's ability to consent to or refuse the proposed major medical treatment decision.
  • Determination of whether there is an authorized surrogate who is willing and available to consent to or refuse the proposed major medical procedure on behalf of the patient. 
  • Determination of whether the proposed major medical treatment decision is in the best interest of the patient.

The panel will only make these decisions in this order to protect the patient's rights. In all cases, the patient will be seen by the panel or its representative, before a decision is made.

What treatment is included?

Medical, surgical, dental, or diagnostic interventions or procedures which involve:

  • The use of a general anesthetic (SDMC Program Protocols have been modified to include cases for intravenous (IV) sedation, conscious sedation and monitored anesthesia care (MAC) when the MD requires informed consent); 
  • Any significant invasion of bodily integrity requiring an incision or producing substantial pain, discomfort, debilitation, or having a significant recovery period
  • Significant risk
  • HIV testing
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hospice
  • Withdrawal or withholding of life sustaining treatment as provided in the Health Care Decisions Act for persons with mental retardation or developmental disabilities
  • Any other treatment or procedure for which informed consent is required by law.
What treatment is excluded by law?
  • Routine diagnosis or treatment including the administration of routine medications (including psychotropic medications)
  • Dental care performed under a local anesthetic
  • Emergency medical treatment
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
  • Withdrawal or discontinuation of life sustaining medical treatment (except as provided in the Health Care Decisions Act for persons with mental retardation or developmental disabilities)
  • Sterilization
  • Termination of pregnancy
Who is eligible for the program?

Eligible individuals are or have been in a residential program or received services from a program operated, licensed or funded by the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), the Office of Mental Health (OMH), or Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). Individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities may also be eligible for end of life care decisions.

How do I apply for a determination on behalf of an individual?

To have the Surrogate Decision-Making Committee consider a case, you must submit the request in writing (Declaration) on special  Case Filing Forms. The Case Filing Forms and instructions may be downloaded and completed for submission to SDMC for processing.  Additional supporting information must be obtained from the facility or program where the individual resides. Introductory letters explaining what information is required for submission of forms processing cases is also available. Further assistance in completing forms may be obtained by calling (518) 549-0328.   

Is case preparation training available?

Yes, training is available. Contact the SDMC Program for more information at 518-549-0328 or 800-624-4143.

Can I become a panelist?

The Surrogate Decision-Making Committees are composed of volunteer panelists. Each panel is made up of a member from each of four categories: attorneys admitted to practice in New York State, New York State licensed medical and health care professionals (medical doctors, nurses, clinical social workers, etc.), family (persons who have been consumers of mental health services or who have family members who are or who have been consumers), or advocate members (persons with recognized expertise or demonstrated interest in care and treatment of individuals with mental disabilities). Panel members are appointed after completing a one-day training session and serve for 2-year terms. Members may be reappointed for additional 2-year terms.

The panelists review declarations regarding an individual's capacity and need for treatment. The decisions are made by the panels following a hearing where they take testimony on each declaration. The workload is manageable since cases are reviewed by the panelists prior to the hearing and panel determinations are, in most cases, made on the day of the hearing. The nature of these procedures allows the panel members to select the amount of time and areas where they can serve on hearings, which is consistent with their other obligations.  Information about becoming a volunteer is on our website.

Travel expenses for training and hearing participation are reimbursed. Training is provided by the Justice Center. You will be asked to execute an Oath of Office and indemnification is provided by the State.

If you would like to serve on the panels, please go to our application forms, or contact:  

Call (518) 549-0328 or Fax (518) 549-0460

NYS Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs
Surrogate Decision-Making Committee Program
161 Delaware Avenue
Delmar, NY 12054

Learn more about becoming a SDMC panel member.