Senate Bill 494, recently introduced in the Oregon Legislature, would allow the starving and dehydrating of patients who suffer from dementia or mental illness. This bill was drafted because of a situation involving an Ashland resident who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. After moving into a memory care facility, Nora Harris 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. However, her husband sought a court order to require the nursing home to stop assisting her. 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!
Senate Bill 494 removes current safeguards which prohibit surrogates from withholding ordinary food and water from conscious patients with conditions that prevent them from making decisions about their own care. Currently, patients like Nora are given help with eating and drinking when they cannot do it themselves. We are not talking about tube feeding or an IV. This is basic, non-medical, humane care for conscious patients.
The way these safeguards are removed is subtle. A cursory look at SB 494 might lead you to think it merely updates the law regarding Advance Directive. This is true, but there’s more. If the bill passes, it could allow a court to interpret a request on an Advance Directive to refuse tube feeding to also mean you don’t want to receive spoon feeding! SB 494 also creates an unelected, unaccountable committee that can make future changes to the Advance Directive, which could easily result in further erosion of patient rights.
This bill is deadly and must be defeated. Your representatives in the Oregon Legislature need to hear that patients must have the right to food and water. To contact your representatives, please visit www.ortl.org/get-involved/action-alerts!