Last week a bill, which has been ignored by traditional media and whose gravity is unbeknownst to many Oregonians, passed out of the Oregon State Senate with a vote of 17-13.  Titled, “Relating to healthcare decisions; prescribing an effective date,” Senate Bill 494 appears to merely be an update to the current advanced directive, which is a legal document that permits an Oregon citizen to appoint a representative to carry out the end-of-life medical decisions that the patient has chosen if he or she is incapacitated and unable to make such a decision.

However, SB 494 is far from harmless. The bill has the potential to allow the starving and dehydration of mentally incapacitated patients, (i.e. Alzheimer’s and Dementia) against their will by emitting an important statue, ORS 127.531, which helps to prevent any unauthorized actions and abusive steps that could be taken by health representatives through the current advanced directive form.

Colm Willis, an attorney with Lynch Conger McLane LLP, in his testimony against the bill before the Senate Rules Committee, stated: “The form interacts with ORS 127.540 and other sections of the statue to ensure that an incapable person’s life is not ended without his or her explicit consent, unless he or she is in one of four statutorily defined end of life situations.”

This safeguard is removed in the proposed bill. Instead of the form articulating that a citizens’ representative cannot make end of life decisions without expressly-stated consent, the form would allow the representative to deny life-sustaining treatments unless the patient expressly stated that he or she should not. Willis notes that “This creates a situation where your intentions when filling out the advance directive may not be reflected in the decisions that are made for you once you can no longer make decisions for yourself.” In other words, health care representatives in the future could be permitted to dictate the premature deaths of elderly patients who could perhaps still make basic decisions on matters such as food and water.

The sponsor of SB 494, Democratic Senator Floyd Prozanski, along with his fellow party members (excluding Betsy Johnson, who voted against) and Republican Senator Jeff Kruse, chose to ignore the warnings of the Republican legislators who voted “no”. He stated that SB 494 merely updated the confusing language of the current form; it allowed for citizens to express their values about the end of life; and it made room for “patients’ autonomy” at the end of life to be expressed. When addressing the concerns raised right before the Senate voted on the bill, he merely stated that the worries were irrelevant and, if citizens were worried, they could simply opt out of the advanced directive form.

SB 494 is long and complicated in its entirety, which may have led to a misunderstanding by some legislators of the implications of the bill.  Critics contend that this was intentional.  Gayle Atteberry, executive director of Oregon Right to Life, stated: “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.”

SB 494 is now in the State House of Representatives for possible consideration.  The bill must be passed out of the Legislature by July 10th, the constitutionally mandated end of legislative session, and signed by the Governor in order for it to become law.

Helen Cook is a current honors student at Benedictine College, where she is studying History with possible minors in English and Political Science. She is heavily active in student life, participating in three music ensembles as a violinist and leading Ravens Respect Life as president. When she is not busy with school and student life activities, she is found reading the many classical works of literature.