SALEM — Just before Independence Day, the Oregon Legislature quickly passed a load of legislation, including a bill that allows Oregonians with disabilities to have an advocate along when being admitted to the hospital.

COVID-19 regulations have clamped down on hospital visits, but state lawmakers unanimously voted to ease restrictions when it comes to disabled patients. The law goes into effect immediately.

“As Catholics, we believe in the dignity of all human life,” said Kelsey Bell, director of the Archdiocese of Portland Office for People with Disabilities. Bell cited teaching from the U.S. Catholic bishops saying that adequate health care is part of the right to life.

“Senate Bill 1606 helps safeguard this right and guard against discrimination during this difficult time,” she said. “In particular, allowing support people admittance to the hospital will help provide people who have disabilities with emotional support as well as assistance in truly understanding their own medical decisions.”

Oregon Right to Life supported the legislation.

“All Oregonians deserve advocates, particularly those who cannot advocate for themselves,” said Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life.

Anderson said hundreds of Oregonians on short notice sent emails supporting the bill, which was led by Sen. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis).

“During this pandemic, draconian hospital visitor policies have denied Oregonians with disabilities access to the people they trust to facilitate care and assist with disability related needs,” Gelser said in a press release. “Alone in the hospital, they have faced increased pressure to consent to Do Not Resuscitate and Do Not Intubate orders and have been denied accommodations to participate in their own care planning.”

Gelser noted that one patient was denied a ventilator until Disability Rights Oregon intervened.

“In the face of such discrimination, many people with disabilities have elected to avoid or delay medical care,” Gelser said. “Others died alone in the hospital after they did seek care.”