Senate Bill 494: Victory and Vigilance!
By Gayle Atteberry, Oregon Right to Life
Senate Bill 494, which would have allowed the starvation and dehydration of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, took its final breaths in the House Judiciary Committee before it met a timely death. The bill died because of many forces at work: God’s miraculous goodness, a vast army of pro-life Oregonians who called and emailed their senators, supporters who gave generously to fund our hard-working lobby team, and the Republican legislators in both the Senate and the House.
In spite of thousands of emails and phone calls to state senators from their constituents, the Senate passed SB 494 on June 8. Every Republican senator voted against the bill except Senator Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg). Not only did Senator Kruse vote for the bill, but he actively campaigned for its passage. Unfortunately, Senator Kruse, who has been endorsed by Oregon Right to Life PAC, has clearly abandoned his pro-life ethic.
Every other Senate Republican, however, stood their ground, doing everything they could to stop the bill. Special recognition should be given to Senators Ted Ferrioli, from John Day, Kim Thatcher, from Keizer, Brian Boquist, from Dallas, and Jackie Winters, from Salem. Even though the bill passed the Senate, opposition to the bill had gained such momentum that Republicans in the House were able to use it to stop SB 494 from coming to a vote. Special thanks should also be given to Representatives Mike McLane (Powell Butte) and Sal Esquivel (Medford). The bill was sent to the House Judiciary Committee, which was closed down on June 2, taking the bill with it.
SB 494, deceivingly written by insurance companies, health organizations, and right-to-die proponents, is extremely hard to understand. Nowhere did it say that food and hydration can be removed from dementia patients. To the layman, unfamiliar with how bills are written and what words in the bill actually meant, SB 494 appeared to be what proponents touted — a simple update to the current advance directive. However, legal scrutiny of the bill revealed its true intent — to remove from Oregon law all the protections afforded mentally incompetent, conscious patients from being starved and dehydrated to death.
In the current advance directive, in order to make a life-ending decision for an incapable person, a health care representative must be expressly given that legal authority by the patient, except in limited circumstances. SB 494 removes the advance directive from statute and makes other changes that would eliminate this explicit limit on the authority of the health care representative. SB 494 also removes other protections from Oregon law for vulnerable, conscious patients who are not dying, but suffering from mental illness.
The bill received national attention in such publications as National Review and World magazine. Many national radio programs interviewed Oregon Right to Life staff. The horrendous intent of the bill shocked people nationwide.
As pro-lifers, we celebrate the news of SB 494’s demise and also applaud the death of earlier dangerous bills (SB 239, SB 708, and HB 3272) that would have removed food and hydration from patients in foster care and nursing homes. The bad news is that HB 3391, which would require all Oregon insurance companies to pay for abortions with no copay, passed the House, though all Republicans voted no. It will now go to the Senate, likely pass, and be signed into law.
We are beginning to see a national trend. California pro-life groups have learned of a bill very similar to SB 494 being introduced in that state’s legislature. In the middle of victory, we must remain on guard. Victories only last as long as vigilance is maintained.
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