Oregon House Kills Bill to Allow Starving Mentally Ill Patients to Death

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 20, 2017   |   10:20AM   |   Washington, DC

The Oregon state House has killed legislation that pro-life groups strenuously opposed because it would put mentally ill patients at risk.

Touted as a “simple update” to Oregon’s current advance directive, this bill is designed to allow for the starving and dehydrating to death of patients with dementia or mental illness. The state Senate had approved Senate Bill 494 — which pro-life advocates said is little more than the state colluding with the healthcare industry to save money on the backs of mentally ill and dementia patients. This bill would remove current safeguards in Oregon’s advance directive statute that protect conscious patients’ access to ordinary food and water when they no longer have the ability to make decisions about their own care.

As Oregon Right to Life explained, the bill, pushed by big insurance companies and which has been amended more than once, is promoted as simply creating a process of updating Oregon’s advance directive.  However, even with its amendments, SB 494 will allow for the starving and dehydrating to death of patients with dementia or mental illness.

But the state House killed the bill, which passed the Senate 17-13 and would have given the power to health care representatives to starve and dehydrate people with mental illnesses including dementia.

After passing the Senate, SB 494 was assigned to the House Judiciary committee. However, the Judiciary committee closed June 2, effectively killing the bill for this session.

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“We are so thankful to our pro-life Oregon senators who stood so strongly against SB 494 and gave momentum to the opposition, which our pro-life House representatives then use to help send SB 494 to a dead end,” said Gayle Atteberry, ORTL executive director. “Had this bill become law it would have been used to end the lives of innocent Oregonians who are not in the active dying stage but are afflicted with mental illness. Thousands of Oregonians wrote to their legislators expressing horror about this bill that exemplifies just how extreme Oregon’s politicians have become.”

How SB 494 works:

Under current law, if it’s not clear what a mentally incompetent person desires or wants, the person’s health care representative does not have the authority to end the incompetent person’s life unless the person is in a specific end-of-life situation.

Oregon’s current advance directive allows a person to specify types of care they will want as well as who will be their health care representative if they become mentally incompetent.  The current form gives ample room for a person to write his/her complete instructions for end-of-life care including if the patient wants tube feeding or not.

Oregon’s current advance directive is a part of statute. As such, it is not just a form—the law also limits the authority of a health care representative to make decisions for a patient to only what the patient designates on the form.

SB 494 removes the advance directive document from Oregon statute. The result is that there could be situations where an incompetent person’s life may be ended according to the wishes of their health care representative, even if it’s against the unwritten or ambiguously written desires of the incompetent person.

If SB 494 becomes law, instead of a person having to opt-out of life-sustaining treatment on an advance directive, Oregonians will likely need to specifically opt-in to ensure that their health care representative does not end their life.

This bill specifically affects people who become mentally incapable of making health care decisions, such as someone with dementia who can still eat, drink and make other everyday choices. That is why it is so important that a health care representative only have the authority to make a life-ending decision if they are explicitly given that authority. The current advance directive preserves Oregonians’ ability to receive food and hydration even if they lose mental competency.

“Oregon law currently has strong safeguards to protect patients who are no longer able to make decisions for themselves,” said Atteberry. “Nursing homes and other organizations dedicated to protecting vulnerable patients work hard to make sure patients receive the food and water they need.  Senate Bill 494, pushed hard by the insurance lobby, would take patient care a step backwards and decimate patient rights.”