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Compassion & Choices Applauds Signing of Oregon Law Protecting Access to Health Care During Pandemic

Compassion & Choices today praised the Oregon Legislature and Governor Kate Brown for the enactment of Senate Bill 1606, intended to protect vulnerable individuals who seek health care treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The law requires medical facilities to allow individuals with disabilities to designate a support person to be present with them in the emergency department and during a hospital stay to help the patient in explaining medical choices and decisions. The measure also reaffirms that even during a health emergency, providers may not deny or restrict medical treatment to any patient based on the patient’s race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability. 

Importantly, SB1606 also reinforces the importance of clinicians adhering to individuals’ advance directives, POLSTs, and other legally designated health care proxies. These legal documents allow patients, especially those with chronic or terminal illnesses, to choose the level of care they wish to receive in the event they are hospitalized.

Though well-intended, the bill’s original language could have had a chilling effect on the ability of patients to have their POLSTs followed by providers and facilities. Compassion & Choices and Death with Dignity National Center submitted joint testimony and letters to lawmakers pointing out these unintended consequences. In response to our feedback, the committee updated and submitted an amended and improved version of the bill.

“On behalf of our 17,000 supporters in Oregon I want to thank the legislature and Governor Brown for this thoughtful and important legislation,” said Compassion & Choices NW Regional Advocacy Manager Jennifer Parrish Taylor. “This law protects Oregonians with disabilities without diminishing the utility of advance directives, POLSTs and the authority of legally designated health care proxies for all populations.”

Compassion & Choices is the oldest and largest national nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to improving care and expanding options at life’s end.