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Right to Die Illinois

Illinois lawmakers will decide the future of a bill that would allow what advocates call “medical aid in dying” in Illinois.

Pat Sullivan

Could Illinois be the next ‘right-to-die’ state?

State lawmakers introduced a bill in February that would legalize what advocates call “right-to-die” or “medical aid in dying.”

The legislation would make Illinois the 11th state to allow a terminally ill person with less than six months to live to end their life with a five-drug compound.

Supporters say “right-to-die” should be an end-of-life option like hospice, palliative care and other choices currently available in Illinois.

Opponents call it “physician-assisted suicide.”

To learn more, Reset spoke with people on both sides of the issue.

Below are some takeaways from Reset’s interview with the bill’s co-sponsor Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora), Access Living’s Amber Smock and ACLU of Illinois’ Khadine Bennett.

What would determine who is eligible?

  • Terminally ill people 18 years and older with a prognosis of six months or less to live would be eligible.

  • Individuals would have to get that prognosis from two doctors.

  • They would have to make a verbal request to a doctor followed by a written request a few days later.

  • An independent witness would need to be present when the verbal request is made.

  • A witness cannot be someone who could gain something from the patient’s death.

  • Both doctors would have to deem the individual capable of making their own medical decisions.

  • If the physicians have concerns regarding “mental capability,” patients would have to talk to a mental healthcare specialist.

“They're also given mandatory counseling on what the treatment options are,” Sen. Holmes said.

What concerns have opponents raised?

Access Living, a local service and advocacy organization for people with disabilities, has raised several concerns, including one about “diagnostic uncertainty.”

That’s the fact that it’s common for people to receive prognoses that are inaccurate, and some patients live longer than the length of time doctors say they have to live.

“Having a six-month prognosis doesn't necessarily mean anything,” Smock said. “It may mean that yes, you’re sick, but it also doesn't mean that you have a timer on yourself.”

Smock also said it’s conceivable that physicians, family members or caregivers could coerce people with disabilities — knowingly or unknowingly — into choosing the “right-to-die” option.

As the Chicago Tribune pointed out in an op-ed opposing the bill, a recent Harvard study showed that many medical professionals have biases against people with disabilities.

“Many doctors do not understand or see the quality of life for people with disabilities the way that we see our own quality of life,” Smock said.

Should ‘right-to-die’ be considered suicide?

That depends who you ask. Opponents of the bill say yes. Supporters say no.

“We have to really call it for what it is,” Smock said. “Ending your life is suicide.”

ACLU of Illinois’ Director of Advocacy and Intergovernmental Affairs Khadine Bennett sees things differently.

“The idea that someone is committing suicide has a lot of negative connotations,” she said. “All of them want to live if that was an option available to them, but they know that they're going to die.”

Similarly, Sen. Holmes said, “Quite frankly, these are not people that want to die. These are people that are going to die.”

Reset host Sasha-Ann Simons spoke with Illinois Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora), Access Living’s Amber Smock and the ACLU of Illinois’ Khadine Bennett.

You can listen to the full conversation above.

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