Oregon Bill Starving Dementia Patients Advances

by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  June 7, 2017   

Colm Willis: "One of the purposes of our law should be to protect vulnerable people"

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PORTLAND, Ore. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A bill that gives healthcare providers the right to starve mentally ill patients and those with dementia advanced in the Oregon Senate Monday.

SB494 passed out of the Senate Rules Committee with certain amendments. Colm Willis testified in front of the committee that the bill, even as amended, still gives healthcare providers the legal right to withhold food and water from these patients and against their will in some instances.

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, director of Oregon Right to Life, remarked, "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."

Life-ending decisions include the decision to administer food and water to patients. Speaking of mentally incompetent patients, who can still eat naturally, Willis noted, "A person may be incompetent to make a complex medical decision for themselves but still may be competent to decide whether or not they want to eat."

During the Senate hearing, Willis attested that the current default law in Oregon doesn't allow healthcare providers to make end-of-life decisions for patients unless they are explicitly authorized to do so ahead of time by the patient. After the patient slips into a state of dementia, the healthcare provider if not authorized still can't decide to withhold food or water from such patients.

"The effect of this bill would change the default rule," Willis testified, "which is that except for in certain end-of-life situations, your healthcare representative cannot make life-ending decisions for you unless you say they can, to a new rule which would be that your healthcare representative can make life-ending decisions for you in most cases unless you clearly and unambiguously say they cannot, which may be difficult to do."

Considering the vulnerability for such patients, who lapse into a state of dementia, Willis protested, "One of the purposes of our law should be to protect vulnerable people who are at risk of harm from others." He affirmed that SB494, as it passed to the Senate floor, also makes "other changes that would eliminate this explicit limit on the authority of the healthcare representative."

Focusing on the insurance companies, Atteberry commented, "Oregon law currently has strong safeguards to protect patients who are no longer able to make decisions for themselves. "Nursing homes and other organizations dedicated to protecting vulnerable patients work hard to make sure patients receive the food and water they need. SB494, pushed hard by the insurance lobby, would take patient care a step backwards and decimate patient rights."

During the Senate committee hearings, Willis affirmed that Oregon's current law ensures "that an incapable person's life is not ended without his or her explicit consent." Atteberry deplored the efforts pushing the current version of SB 494, "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."


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