Oregon: Bill Could Allow Mentally Ill Patients To Be Starved

An Oregon bill on advanced medical directive rules could allow patients who suffer from dementia or mental illness to be starved or dehydrated, opponents warned.

“These are patients who are awake, can chew and swallow and want to eat, even though in some cases they may need help in delivering food to their mouths,” Gayle Atteberry of Oregon Right to Life said Jan. 31. “Current safeguards in Oregon’s law protect these patients from this type of cruelty. This bill take away these safeguards.”

The legislation, S.B. 494, would create an appointed committee empowered to make changes to the advance medical directive governing end-of-life decisions.

According to Oregon Right to Life, the bill was drafted in response to the case of Ashland, Ore. resident Nora Harris, who suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She lost the ability to communicate and the fine motor skills needed to feed herself. She would eat and drink only with assisted spoon feeding.

Harris’ husband had filed a suit to stop the spoon feeding but lost his case in July 2016. Harris herself was represented by a court-appointed attorney, who said that that refusing to help Harris eat would be against state law. The law and Harris’ advance directive authorized only the withdrawal of artificial means of hydration and nutrition. Jackson County Circuit Judge Patricia Crain agreed, the Medford Mail-Tribune reports.

Oregon Right to Life objected to efforts to change the advance directive system.

“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,” the group said. “This is not tube feeding or an IV – this is basic, non-medical care for conscious patients.”

It charged that the process “could easily result in further erosion of patient rights.”

“End of life decisions are very difficult,” Atteberry added. “Families suffer emotionally as they make decisions such as to use or withdraw feeding tubes, possibly place do-not-resuscitate orders, or use heroic treatments. Most of these decisions, however, involve patients in comatose situations, and most of them are free of moral implications. Most of them, also, are end-of-life decisions.”

Those affected by this bill would not be at an end-of-life stage.

“The problem is, for some, especially insurance companies, they are not dying fast enough,” Atteberry said.

She said that current requirements that patients be spoon-fed help reassure families of Alzheimer’s patients that their loved ones are receiving good care.

“Some comfort can be derived from the knowledge that their loved one will be receiving attentive and kind care while in these facilities. Should this bill pass, that peace would vanish.”


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