Illinois Compassionate Quarterly – Fall 2021

As we close out 2021, we’re celebrating our first year of publishing this newsletter, bringing you up-to-date news on the growth of the movement to expand and protect end-of-life care options in Illinois.

Together we have made terrific progress this year:

  • Forty-five volunteers stepped forward to meet with 16 state legislators by Zoom this summer.
  • Volunteers wrote fifteen (15) letters to the editor in papers throughout the state on topics including Healthcare Decisions Day and Medical Aid in Dying.
  • Hundreds of supporters have attended myriad online events including workshops on medical aid in dying, advance care planning and dementia. We hosted a major event with the filmmakers of Bob’s Choice which featured a Seattle LGBTQ+ activist as he opted for medical aid in dying. We held several viewings of documentaries created by Illinoisans about their loved ones’ end-of-life journeys.

We plan to make 2022 another successful year, but we cannot do it without your renewed support and participation! Thank you in advance for your continued advocacy in 2022!

Local Update

Our Illinois Volunteers and Action Teams have been busy!

Farmers Markets, Fairs, and Conferences:
The Oak Park, Champaign-Urbana, and Northwest Suburban Teams all recruited new members at their local Farmers Markets. The Springfield Team talked with people about end-of-life options at the Central Illinois Senior Celebration Fair, and the Champaign-Urbana Team tabled at the Funeral Consumers Alliance annual meeting.

Compassion & Choices of McLean County presented to the Illinois Funeral Directors Association on the importance of their assistance in client’s end-of-living planning and the work to introduce and pass medical aid in dying legislation in Illinois.

The North Suburban Team launched an informal coffee series. Their first coffee event on October 9, attended by 14 people, included a brief presentation about Compassion & Choices’ work and resources followed by a discussion. Several attendees expressed interest in becoming involved!

Virtual Events:

  • The Northern Illinois Team hosted a viewing party for the Compassion & Choices Signature Event on October 6.
  • The Chicago Team sponsored a presentation by Dan Diaz, husband of Brittany Maynard, who moved to Oregon to access medical aid in dying on October 12.
  • The Champaign Team hosted a webinar featuring Ray Spooner’s end-of-life story on October 13. His wife — Rae Spooner — is also a Compassion & Choices storyteller who participated in the discussion.
  • The Oak Park Team hosted the event Finish Strong: Preparing for a Dementia Diagnosis Now on November 18, with 138 attendees.

If you would like to join the movement, we welcome you to join a local Action Team or start a new one! Please contact Amy Sherman for more information.

National Update

We won a big victory in California on October 5, when Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 380, extending the sunset provision of the California End of Life Option Act for five years; from January 1, 2026 until January 1, 2031. The law also improved access and transparency by reducing the mandatory minimum 15-day waiting period between the two oral requests for aid-in-dying medication to 48 hours for all eligible patients and requiring healthcare systems and hospices to put their medical aid-in-dying policies on their websites.

On the legal advocacy front, on October 28 Compassion & Choices filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the residency requirement of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. Filed on behalf of Dr. Nicholas Gideonse — an Oregon physician who regularly attends to patients from neighboring Vancouver, WA — if the suit is successful, eligible out-of-state people would be able to access medical aid in dying in Oregon.

Also in October, the NAACP — the nation’s first, largest and most influential grassroots–based civil rights organization — passed an end-of-life education resolution that recognizes the disparities that African Americans face in end-of-life planning. The resolution states that, “The NAACP advocates that families educate themselves on all aspects of end-of-life planning including advance healthcare directives, healthcare proxies, organ donation, wills, trusts, powers of attorney and end-of-life options such as hospice, palliative care and achieving a physician-assisted peaceful transition.”  This transformational resolution solidifies the importance of end-of-life education as a civil rights issue.

Spotlight: Santosh Yajnik, M.D. 

Santosh Yajnik, M.D.

Santosh Yajnik, M.D.

Dr. Santosh Yajnik is a Chicago-area board certified radiation oncologist with 18 years of experience. He practices at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center. He is also a member of Compassion & Choices’ Doctors for Dignity community.

You are treating most of your patients for cancer, in many cases, a life-threatening or ending disease. Why did you decide to practice in this specialty?

I have always valued working with cancer patients in the hopes of helping them feel better and get back to living their lives. I chose radiation oncology because the specialty allows so many ways of helping our patients. Radiation oncology is an extremely evidence-based specialty and most of our decisions in radiation oncology are based on very well-designed clinical trials. I enjoy the long-standing relationships made with patients as we deal with their cancer and often during years of follow up.

Why do you support medical aid in dying?

The end of life from serious illness has the potential to involve significant suffering. Therefore, it is important to have options available for patients that respect patient autonomy and have the potential to alleviate their suffering. In authorizing states, we have decades of data that demonstrates that having the medical aid in dying option available has the ability to alleviate suffering in patients who choose this option.

Do you have any personal story or connection with end-of-life care that you can share?

My father has been living with stage 4 lung cancer for the past three years. During that time, he has spoken with me about his end-of-life wishes and has expressed that if the pain and suffering from his illness becomes too overwhelming, he would like me to take him to Oregon [where medical aid in dying is authorized]. It was this conversation, during which my father who has lived in Illinois for the past five decades, spoke about relocating to another state in order to fulfill his potential end-of-life choices, that led me to contact Compassion & Choices and become involved in the issue.

Do you have conversations with your patients about their decisions concerning end-of-life treatment and care? If yes, what have you learned from them?

Yes, I have conversations with my patients about end-of-life care. I have learned that individuals are unique in the way they approach the end of life and these differences can be based on the disease process itself, on belief systems, family situation or support network. This is why I believe it is important to offer choice to seriously ill patients and to help patients find the end-of-life option that is right for them.

What is your sense of support among Illinois physicians about medical aid in dying?

We know from national surveys that the majority of physicians in the U.S. support medical aid in dying. My sense is that the majority of physicians in Illinois would support patients having the choice of medical aid in dying available at the end of life. This discussion should be about respecting patient and physician autonomy and providing choices that reflect the diversity of beliefs and preferences at the end of life.

Upcoming Events

Want to learn how to effectively advocate for end-of-life care options? Join us for a two-day Train the Advocate workshop on January 13 and 14, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day.  Register for the training here.

Check out the following links for more information on upcoming and past events:

Call for Storytellers

One of the best ways to build this movement is to share our stories. If you would like to read others’ stories or share the struggles of navigating end-of-life options of your own or those of a loved one,  click here.

“Finish Strong” Challenge

‘Tis the season when we travel to see family and friends, eat good food and exchange gifts. Strengthening bonds with those we love can include conversations about difficult topics, like how we envision the last chapter of our lives.  Check out our resources on advance directives and consider giving your loved ones the gift of knowing your wishes this holiday season. 

Before You Go…

If you would like to become more involved with Compassion & Choices in Illinois, please email Amy Sherman at [email protected]

If you have suggestions for future editions of this newsletter, please email Patrick Donges at [email protected]