Senate Bill 494, recently introduced in the Oregon Legislature, would allow the starving and dehydrating of patients who suffer from dementia or mental illness. A perfect illustration of the danger this bill presents can be seen in a situation involving an Ashland resident named Nora Harris who suffered 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!
SB 494 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.
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 would also create a committee, appointed rather than elected, that can make future changes to the advance directive without approval from the Oregon Legislature. This could easily result in further erosion of patient rights.
UPDATE: SB 494 has moved from the Judiciary committee to the Rules committee. The Rules committee is the last committee to close so SB 494 can be moved to a floor vote at any moment until the session ends. This bill is deadly and must be defeated. Your representatives in the Oregon legislature need to hear that patients have a right to food and water. To contact your State Senator, please click here now!
If you do not live in Oregon, please email your opposition to SB 494 to Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, who is the chair of the Senate Rules Committee, where SB 494 is currently assigned. Sen.GinnyBurdick@oregonlegislature.gov.