Feb 20, 2024 - News

Illinois considers law allowing medically assisted death

States where medically assisted dying is <span style="text-decoration:underline; text-decoration-color:#6533ff; text-decoration-thickness:4px;">legal</span> or <span style="text-decoration:underline; text-decoration-color:#c0aaff;text-decoration-thickness:4px;">being considered</span>
Data: Death With Dignity; Map: Simran Parwani/Axios Visuals

Illinois legislators introduced a bill this month that would allow physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients.

Why it matters:
Advocates say giving terminal patients more control of end-of-life decisions brings more dignity to death, but opponents say it's at odds with physicians' responsibility to care for patients and can open the door to more suicide.

The big picture: If the bill becomes law, Illinois would become the 11th state to have medically assisted dying on the books, Axios' Maya Goldman reports.

  • Oregon has had a law since 1994, and states including Wisconsin and Massachusetts are considering legalizing the practice.

Zoom in: State Sen. Linda Holmes tells 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 tells Axios. "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.'"

How it works: 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.

  • They must personally request the drug, be examined by a doctor, and then get a second opinion from another doctor.
  • If either doctor has any questions about the patient's mental capabilities of making this choice, they then have to request a mental health care professional to evaluate the case.

Yes, but: Physicians can refuse to prescribe the drug to patients and even with a prescription, patients can choose not to take the drug.

By the numbers: 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.

The other side: Major medical associations have not endorsed medically assisted death.

  • 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 adopt a position of engaged neutrality, in which they neither support nor oppose these laws, but serve as an educational resource.

What's next: Holmes will meet this week with legislators in Springfield to get a sense of where her colleagues stand on the bill.

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