Proposed amendment to General Vital Statistics Provisions (Article 207 of the NYC Health Code)

Proposed Rules: Open to Comments (View Public Comments Received:19)

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Agency:
Comment By: 
Monday, April 23, 2018
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Statement of Basis and Purpose

Introduction

            Birth and death records are considered private records during a person life and for an appropriate period after death, and are protected from access by the general public because they contain individually identifiable information. However, they are also historical documents of interest to family members and persons researching their ancestries. For these reasons, the Board of Health recently fixed schedules for making these records public and transferring them to the Department of Records and Information Services (“DORIS”).  Section 207.21 of the Health Code makes birth records public records after 125 years after birth, and death records public records after 75 years after death.

           

            The schedule set in section 207.21 of the Health Code drew numerous comments from the public. Many of these comments emphasized a keen community interest in third parties being able to access birth and death records prior to their transfer to DORIS.  The comments also made a variety of different suggestions, from making all birth and death records immediately available to the public, to releasing birth and death records to family members prior to the records becoming public. The Department agrees that certain family members should have access to birth and death records prior to the records becoming public, and is therefore now proposing amendments to section 207.11 of the Health Code for this purpose.  The Department believes these new provisions will allow family members to access information while protecting the confidentiality of vital records for appropriate periods of time. 

Current Administrative and Health Code provisions allowing release of birth and death records

The proposal is consistent with Administrative Code section 17-169(a), which delineates who may have access to birth records.  While section 17-169(a)(1) restricts who may obtain a certified copy of a record of birth, section 17-169(a)(2) authorizes the Department to honor requests for certifications of birth when providing the information is “necessary or required for a proper purpose.”  As noted below, the Department believes that ascertaining facts related to one’s family history is a proper purpose.

         Section 17-169(b) of the Administrative Code provides for access to death records when “necessary or required for a proper purpose.”  Section 207.1(b) of the Health Code provides that death records can be made available to the following persons:

    (1) the spouse, domestic partner, parent, child, sibling, grandparent or grandchild of the decedent;

    (2) the legal representative of the estate of the decedent, or the individual identified on a death certificate filed with the Department as the person in control of the disposition;

    (3) a party with a property right who demonstrates to the Department that information beyond the fact of the death of the decedent is necessary to protect or assert a right of that party;

    (4) a funeral director who requests the record or information within twelve (12) months of when the death of his or her client was registered; or

    (5) persons or government agencies who otherwise establish that such records are necessary or required for a judicial or other proper purpose, or to prevent the misuse or misappropriation of City, state or federal governmental funds.

 

Proposed amendments to expand vital records access to certain family members 

            The Department is proposing to expand the group of family members who can access birth and death records prior to their public release.  The proposed group is within a close degree of consanguinity (blood relation) to the individual whose records are sought.  Specifically, the Department proposes to expand the list of relatives given in Health Code section 207.11(b)(1) who can request a death certificate to also include great-great grandchildren, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, grandnephews, and grandnieces, and to allow spouses, domestic partners, parents of a children over the age of 18, children, siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, great grandchildren, grandnieces, and grandnephews to request of the certification of birth of a deceased individual. As noted in the comments received related to the proposed adoption of Health Code section 207.21, this group often seeks such documents for genealogic and various official purposes.  The Department proposes that allowing such access is within the meaning of “proper purpose” as used in the Administrative and Health Codes. 

Statutory Authority

Pursuant to section 556(c) of the Charter and section 17-166 of the Administrative Code, the Department is responsible for supervising and controlling the registration of births and deaths that occur in New York City. Section 558(c) of the Charter requires the Board to include in the Health Code provisions related to maintaining a registry of births and deaths, as well as provisions related to changes or alterations of any birth or death certificate upon proof satisfactory to the Commissioner of Health and the manner in which these certificates may be issued and otherwise examined.  Administrative Code section 17-169 and Health Code sections 3.25 and 207.11 make birth and death records confidential and restrict access to these records beyond certain classes of specified people.  Section 207.21 of the Health Code sets the time periods by which birth and death records are transferred to DORIS and become public records.  Section 558(b) of the Charter specifically authorizes the Board to add to, alter, and amend the Health Code.

 
Public Hearing
Subject: 

Proposed amendment to Article 207 (General Vital Statistics Provisions) of the New York City Health Code to allow certain direct descendants and other family members to access the birth and death records of their deceased relatives prior to those records becoming public.

Public Hearing Date: 
Monday, April 23, 2018 - 10:00am
Contact: 

Svetlana Burdeynik, (347) 396-6078, resolutioncomments@health.nyc.gov

Location: 
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Gotham Center
42-09 28th Street, 3rd Floor, Room 3-32
Queens, NY 11101