Oregon Senate Bill 494, would allow the starving and dehydrating of patients who suffer from dementia or mental illness. Oregon Right to Life has been working hard to defeat this bill which has powerful supporters including insurance companies and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite holding it back for nearly four months, on Monday the bill was sent to the full Senate. It is scheduled for a vote at the end of this week.
“SB 494 is disguised as a ‘simple update’ to Oregon’s advance directive,” said Gayle Atteberry, Oregon Right to Life executive director. “However, this bill, written in a deceiving manner, has as its goal to save money at the expense of starving and dehydrating dementia and mentally ill patients to death.”
“Oregon Right to Life is committed to fighting this terrible legislation every step of the way,” said Atteberry. “We have already seen the outrage of countless Oregonians that the Legislature would consider putting them in danger. We expect the grassroots response to only increase.”
A perfect illustration of the danger this bill presents can be seen in a situation involving an Ashland resident named Nora Harris who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. After moving into a memory care facility, Nora eventually lost the ability to communicate her wishes. She lost her fine motor skills as well, which prevented her from using utensils. Hungry, she would eat and drink what was offered to her, but her husband sought a court order to require the nursing home to stop assisting her. However, the court would not deny Nora basic sustenance because that would have violated Oregon law. Now Oregon legislators are pushing to remove this legal protection!
A cursory look at SB 494 might lead you to think it merely updates the law regarding advance directives. SB 494 subtly removes current safeguards which prohibit surrogates from withholding ordinary food and water from conscious patients with conditions that don’t allow them to make decisions about their own care. Currently, patients like Nora are given help with eating and drinking when they cannot do it themselves. This is not tube feeding or an IV—this is basic, non-medical care for conscious patients. SB 494 would also create a committee, appointed rather than elected, that can make future changes to the advance directive. This could easily result in further erosion of patient rights.
SB 494 was amended in committee yesterday. However, the amendments did not solve the bill’s fundamental problem. To learn more about what SB 494 will do, watch testimony made to the Rules Committee on behalf of Oregon Right to Life yesterday by clicking here.
Three additional bills (SB 239, SB 708 and HB 3272) that also remove rights from vulnerable patients were introduced this session. “There is a clear effort to move state policy away from protecting the rights of patients with dementia and mental illness and toward empowering surrogates to make life-ending decisions,” Gayle Atteberry said.
To take action against SB 494, please click here.