Health & Wellness

Could Illinois become a ‘right to die' state? The latest on a newly proposed bill

The proposed legislation, SB3499, would create end-of-life options for the Terminally Ill Patients Act in Illinois

A newly introduced bill in Illinois could make the state the latest so-called "right to die" state in the U.S.

The proposed legislation, SB3499, would create end-of-life options for the Terminally Ill Patients Act in Illinois.

Under the bill, which was introduced last week, a qualified patient with a terminal disease would be allowed to request that a physician prescribe them "aid-in-dying medication that will allow the patient to end the patient's life in a peaceful manner," the legislation states.

Requirements would include a patient needing to make two verbal requests to a qualified physician within five days of each other, along with one written request. Such requests can only be made by the patient, not by a surrogate decision-maker or health care proxy, according to the bill.

Patients will need to be informed of other options beyond "end of life" medications, such as hospice and palliative care, and no health care professional will be required to participate in "aid-in-dying care."

There would also be a series of qualifications for a patient to be considered eligible for the prescription, including being 18 years or older, an Illinois resident with a terminal diagnosis and six-month-or-less prognosis, and what a physician deems to be the mental capacity to make such a decision.

The bill was introduced Friday by Senate Assistant Majority Leader Linda Holmes.

“Terminally ill Illinois residents should be able to opt for a gentle death with medical aid in dying and they should have the legal right to make this personal decision in consultation with their doctors and loved ones,” Holmes said in a release. “I am proud to sponsor the bill, and hope all of my colleagues will join me in supporting this compassionate legislation.”

The legislation has been praised by several advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Terminally ill Illinoisans and advocacy groups praised lawmakers for introducing compassionate legislation Friday that would allow mentally capable, terminally ill adults to have the option to get prescription medication to peacefully end unbearable suffering," the ACLU said in a statement. "Illinois residents who support the End of Life Options for Terminally Ill Patients Act are urging the Legislature to pass it during the Spring 2024 session."

If passed, Illinois would become the 11th so-called "right to die" state in the U.S., with 10 others already having similar legislation. Those states include California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington — as well as Washington, D.C.

“I’ve done everything I can to cure my cancer, including multiple cycles of chemotherapy, but the bottom line is I’m already dying,” Lombard resident Deb Robertson, a retired social worker with incurable, high-grade, stage four neuroendocrine carcinoma, an extremely rare and aggressive cancer, told the ACLU. “If I had the option of medical aid in dying here in Illinois, it would mean I could make a decision for myself about when it’s time to go. It would allow me to die peacefully. It would allow my wife and family to say goodbye, and to know that it’s okay to let go.”

Groups like the Archdiocese of Chicago have expressed opposition to what it calls "assisted suicide." Disability advocacy groups like Access Living also criticized the legislation, saying it could disproportionately impact people with disabilities.

"Assisted suicide will only enable further healthcare discrimination against disabled people and other minorities," the group stated. "Our healthcare system has too many leaks to assume that people who are NOT physicians won’t urge assisted suicide on people with disabilities. Instead, what we people with disabilities need is life-saving services and support to improve our ability to manage pain and our ability to be part of our communities."

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