Legislature to Consider Medical Aid-in-Dying Bill to Allow Terminally Ill Illinoisans to Pass Peacefully

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Terminally Ill Illinoisans, Advocacy Groups Praise Bill to Allow Terminally Ill to Avoid Needless End-of-Life Suffering

Terminally ill Illinoisans and advocacy groups praised lawmakers on Friday for introducing compassionate legislation that would allow mentally capable, terminally ill adults to have the option to get prescription medication to peacefully end unbearable suffering. Illinois residents who support the End of Life Options for Terminally Ill Patients Act (SB 3499) are urging the Legislature to pass it during the Spring 2024 session. 

Ten states have authorized medical aid in dying — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington — as well as Washington, D.C. Collectively, these 11 jurisdictions represent more than one out of five U.S. residents (22%), have decades of combined experience implementing this medical practice, starting with Oregon in 1997, and there have been no substantiated cases of abuse or coercion

Deb Robertson with her wife Kate in 2022

Deb Robertson with her wife Kate in 2022

“I’ve done everything I can to cure my cancer, including multiple cycles of chemotherapy, but the bottom line is I’m already dying,” said Lombard resident Deb Robertson, a retired social worker with incurable, high-grade, stage four neuroendocrine carcinoma, an extremely rare and aggressive cancer. “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.” Deb’s bio and a video of her story are available at compassionandchoices.org/stories/deb-robertson.

“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,” said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Linda Holmes (D-42). “I am proud to sponsor the bill, and hope all of my colleagues will join me in supporting this compassionate legislation.”

“It’s long overdue for Illinoisans to have it. I urge my colleagues to pass this compassionate legislation, so no more terminally ill Illinoisans are denied access to the full spectrum of compassionate end-of-life care options” said House Leader Robyn Gabel (D-18).

“Medical aid in dying is a palliative care option that complements hospice care, not replaces it, when no other option can provide relief from unbearable suffering,” said Dr. John Lurain, who practiced for 40 years in Gynecologic Oncology at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. “In fact, research reported in the Journal of Palliative Medicine showed medical aid-in-dying laws improve hospice and palliative care and spur terminally ill patients to ask their physician about the full range of end-of-life care options.” 

Seven out of 10 Illinois likely voters (71%) want the Illinois legislature to pass medical aid-in-dying legislation, according to a February 2023 Impact Research poll. This majority spans the demographic, political, racial, and religious spectrums, including 87% of Democratic voters, 86% of Latino voters, 73% of voters living with disabilities, 69% of Independent, African American/Black, White, and Catholic voters, 58% of non-Catholic Christians and 50% of Republican voters. In contrast, fewer than one in five Illinois voters (17%) oppose medical aid in dying. 

“Polling shows the vast majority of Illinois voters will be grateful to Illinois lawmakers for showing compassion and respecting the wishes of their terminally ill constituents by passing this urgently needed legislation,” said Amy Sherman, Midwest Advocacy Director for Compassion & Choices Action Network Illinois, a member of the Illinois End-of-Life Options Coalition. The coalition also includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and Final Options Illinois. “Your address should not dictate if you have the option to die gently or be forced to die with needless suffering while your loved ones bear witness.”

“This legislation makes sense–it protects terminally ill individuals throughout the process with over a dozen safeguards,” said long-time medical aid-in-dying supporter Senator Laura Fine (D-9). “Let’s listen to the majority of Illinoisans who want to know that they and their loved ones have this option for a peaceful death when contending with a terminal illness.” 

Studies estimate that nearly 70% of cancer patients who receive medication to treat pain still experience severe bouts of breakthrough pain. Cancer is by far the most common diagnosis among terminally ill individuals who utilize the end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying. In addition, the vast majority of terminally ill individuals who utilize medical aid in dying receive hospice services.

“Many Illinois families are facing–or have faced–heartbreaking end-of-life circumstances alongside a loved one suffering from a terminal illness,” said Khadine Bennett, Director of Advocacy and Intergovernmental Affairs for the ACLU of Illinois. “This legislation allows Illinois residents facing a terminal illness the ability to make the decision that's right for them, by providing access to the full range of end-of-life care options available to terminally ill adults in 10 other states and Washington, D.C., including the option of aid-in-dying medication. For many terminally ill individuals, simply having access to this option–even if they never use it–will provide some level of comfort at the end of their lives.”

More than six out of 10 Illinois physicians (62%) personally would want the option of medical aid in dying if they become terminally ill, while only one out of five (20%) would not want it, according to a 2021 Medscape/WedMD poll

“I have metastatic breast cancer. It’s not going away,” said Normal resident Dianne Clemens. “As a nurse, I spent 50 years seeing people die. I’ve seen people die with great grace, and I’ve seen people who did not have the opportunity to do so – people who needed and deserved more options. My nursing background, and now living with cancer, have helped me understand the importance of medical aid in dying. I don’t see why I should be forced to extend my suffering. I want the peace of mind of being able to determine when enough is enough.”

The Illinois End-of-Life Options Coalition is a statewide partnership dedicated to raising both awareness and support across Illinois for medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults. The coalition’s goal is to authorize medical aid in dying and ensure that terminally ill people who want it can access it. The coalition’s partners include ACLU Illinois, Compassion & Choices Action Network Illinois, and Final Options Illinois. Learn more about their work at illinoisoptions.org 

Media Contacts:
Joanna Klonsky, 312-307-0840, [email protected] 
Sean Crowley, 202-495-8520, [email protected] 
Ed Yohnka, 847-687-1129, [email protected] 
Spanish Language Media: Patricia A. González-Portillo, 323-819-0310, [email protected]