Senators approved SB494 by a 17–13 vote with only one Republican, Sen. Jeff Kruse, voting in favor of the bill. The measure, on its way to Oregon’s House of Representatives, is expected to face staunch resistance from the state’s pro-life Representatives. Stalling the bill until Oregon’s legislative session ends on July 10 would kill the bill.
Speaking in the senate on behalf of Oregon Right to Life last week, attorney Colm Willis said the bill, even as amended, still affords healthcare providers the legal right to withhold food and water from conscious dementia patients against their will.
Oregon law mandates that surrogates provide food and water to all conscious patients, who can receive it naturally such as by spoon feeding. The current version of SB494 “could allow a healthcare representative to make a life-ending decision for a person not in an end of life condition without his or her explicit consent,” said Willis.
Gayle Atteberry, Oregon Right to Life executive director, observed that the bill is being pushed by big insurance companies, who are looking to save money and is deceptively crafted. “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,” said Atteberry.
She added, “The reality is that it will 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.”
Those opposed to the bill point to a recent case, they say, highlights the potential danger of the measure once passed. Bill Harris is a resident of Oregon and legal guardian of his wife, Nora Harris. Nora suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and must be fed with a spoon. Bill Harris petitioned the court to issue an order directing the nursing home caring for his wife to stop feeding her altogether.
The court refused the request by Harris as Oregon law requires food and water be given to conscious patients if it can be administered naturally and consumed by ordinary eating and drinking. SB494 would remove this safeguard unless such patients checked a box on an advance life directive prior to slipping into a state of mental incompetency.
In another case, Reada Springer wrote to Oregon Right to Life commenting on how this bill would have affected the real case scenario of her mother, who suffered from a temporary lack of mental clarity.
My mother recently went through a time of delirium without apparent causes. She was admitted to a rehab facility where she was declared in a state of severe dementia. She fell and broke her hip. … and then admitted to a different rehab and again [was] declared with severe dementia. She [was] mentally cleared after three weeks and her mental state was corrected to normal, age-appropriate status. She was finally discharged after 48 days of physical, occupational, speech and cognitive therapies. This law would have threatened my mother’s life any of those days between delirium and discharge.
Oregon Right to Life is asking that you contact the state Representatives to voice your opposition to the SB494. They are also urging Catholics to contact the archdiocese of Portland and encourage Abp. Alexander Sample to continue fighting against this bill.