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HomeIllinois Legislators Consider a Law Allowing Medically Assisted Death

Illinois Legislators Consider a Law Allowing Medically Assisted Death

This February, Illinois legislators initiated a bill that would allow medical professionals to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients who are of sane mind and able to take them.
Advocates say giving terminal patients more control of end-of-life decisions brings more dignity to death, but physicians feel the new law will contradict their responsibility to care for patients. 

 

If the legislation is approved, Illinois would become the 11th state to pass it

Oregon has had a law since 1994. Since then, nine jurisdictions have passed laws on this model, and many states are continuing to fight for Death with Dignity each year.
According to Death with Dignity, other states with existing such laws are:  • California • Washington • Washington, D.C. • Maine • Vermont • Colorado • New Jersey • New Mexico • Hawai‘i , while states that considered Death with Dignity laws in 2023 are Arizona • Florida • New York • Virginia • Connecticut • Kentucky • North Carolina • Maryland • Massachusetts • Delaware • Pennsylvania • Rhode Island • Indiana • Minnesota • Nevada • Iowa.

If the bill becomes law, Illinois would become the 11th state to have medically assisted dying on the books. 

State Sen. Linda Holmes told Axios she co-sponsored the bill in Illinois after watching both of her parents die of cancer.

“When my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she was given less than six months to live,” Holmes said.  “But I remember in those days sitting at the side of her bed, and she grabbed my arm and she’s like, ‘Linda, don’t let them do anything.'”

 

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The patient can rescind the request for Death with Dignity at any time

According to the bill, patients ages 18 and older have to be determined mentally capable and have a prognosis of six months or less to live in order to get access to the drugs. 

Patients must meet stringent eligibility requirements, with no exceptions. 

  • Only the patient may request the medications. 
  • The written request must be witnessed by two people, attesting they believe the patient is capable, acting voluntarily, and is not being coerced. Additional guidelines exist about who can witness, to further protect the patient from coercion or abuse. 
  • The patient can rescind the request for Death with Dignity at any time. 
  • Two licensed health care providers (type of provider varies slightly by state, but must be certified to prescribe medications) must confirm the patient’s diagnosis. 
  • In states that do not require mental health evaluations, if either health care provider is concerned about the patient’s mental state, they must refer the patient for a mental health evaluation. Medications cannot be prescribed until the patient is confirmed as mentally capable. • The process must stop immediately if there exists any suspicion or evidence of coercion. 
  • The licensed health care providers must comply with strict state reporting requirements. Each state’s Board of Medical Examiners and Board of Pharmacy Examiners monitor for law compliance, to further protect patients, family members, and health care providers from criminal prosecution or abuse.

According to a 2020 study from the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, 5,329 patients died by “medical aid in dying” (MAID) and 8,451 received a prescription between 1998 and 2020 in states that had such laws and publicly available records. Roughly 74% of those deaths had a diagnosis of cancer, per the study.  The median age of those who died by MAID was 74. The vast majority were non-Hispanic white.

 

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Medical professionals are not so quick to endorse medically assisted death

With the healthcare system already being in short supply of doctors and medical personnel, with America’s aging population stretching it, and the demand for healthcare outpacing the current supply, doctors needed to ensure death with dignity laws are being correctly applied might be hard to find in the next few years. Plus, medical professionals are not so quick to endorse medically assisted death, considering it contradicts all they have pledged themselves to fight for, which is the preservation of life. 

Chicago-based American Medical Association argues that “physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”

Nearly 40% of more than 400 Illinois physicians surveyed by advocacy group Compassion and Choices prefer that professional medical associations neither support nor oppose these laws, but function as an educational resource when asked for.

Holmes will meet this week with legislators in Springfield to get a feel of where her colleagues stand on the bill.

 

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About Death with Dignity

Death with Dignity is an end-of-life option, governed by state legislation, that allows certain qualified people at the end stages of a terminal illness to voluntarily and legally request and receive prescription medication from their health care provider to hasten death in a peaceful, humane, and dignified manner. A patient must be deemed mentally competent, can stop the process at any time, and may choose to never fill the prescription or ingest the medication

Death with Dignity’s mission focuses on ensuring that all people with a terminal illness have a range of end-of-life options available to them. The paradoxical nature of our current medical system means that people with incurable diseases are living longer than ever before, but also, experience more unnecessary suffering at the end of life. It is undeniable. And, it’s unacceptable. We work to provide people with the freedom of choice in alleviating their suffering. 

Since 1997, these laws have empowered people with terminal illness to have the control they want during the last days of their lives.

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