Advocacy Alert: February 9, 2024


February 9, 2024 | by Amber Smock

Breaking: Illinois Assisted Suicide Bill Filed, Access Living Opposed

Access Living friends and allies,

Last night, Illinois legislators filed a bill that would create physician-assisted suicide in Illinois. 

Known as medical aid in dying (MAID) to supporters, the bill would allow Illinois doctors to prescribe lethal medication to people diagnosed as having six months or less to live. However, Access Living has opposed MAID for many years because when assisted suicide is introduced to a new state, people with disabilities will be the first at risk for a variety of reasons. Today’s Chicago Sun-Times carries an article about the new bill, noting Access Living’s opposition. We are asking our fellow Illinois advocates to start contacting their legislators NOW about this issue at this action link.

What is assisted suicide? 

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), “physician-assisted suicide occurs when a physician facilitates a patient’s death by providing the necessary means and/or information to enable the patient to perform the life-ending act (e.g., the physician provides sleeping pills and information about the lethal dose, while aware that the patient may commit suicide).” The AMA opposes assisted suicide on the grounds that it is “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”

Why does Access Living oppose assisted suicide? Here are the reasons:

Physician bias against people with disabilities: Recent surveys have shown that disability bias among physicians is everywhere. In 2022, Dr. Lisa Iezzoni and several colleagues published an article in Health Affairs, which demonstrated that of 714 physicians interviewed in focus groups, “82.4 percent reported that people with significant disability have worse quality of life than nondisabled people.” With statistics like these, Access Living has significant questions about the physician’s role in deciding who should access MAID.

Illinois already provides options for people to have control over the end of their lives. For example, Illinoisans can set up advance directives, use Do Not Resuscitate forms, or refuse treatment. The choice to live or die, always personal, can take a variety of paths that do not necessitate asking doctors to violate their oaths to do no harm.

People with disabilities are already at significant risk of criminal neglect or abuse. There is simply almost no way to ensure that a person with a disability who asks for MAID is not somehow being coerced by family, their doctor, or insurance companies. Furthermore, existing MAID programs tend to set a high level of burden of proof on the patient to show that they have been coerced. MAID supporters claim that there is no evidence that people are “steered” or coerced; that’s because it’s hard to meaningfully report it.

Diagnostic uncertainty: Medical projections on how much time someone has to live are famously unreliable. People diagnosed with six months or less to live may go on living for years. If the issue is truly about managing pain or receiving care supports or living in an accessible home, then those should be provided, not simply an option to commit suicide. If disabled people were given appropriate pain management or hospice services, their lives would improve and they might not choose the assisted suicide option.

Privatized healthcare: Again, the healthcare system in the United States is broken, and much of it is now for-profit. Many people are not covered by insurance for treatments and services that would relieve pain and increase independence. It is common for many disabled people to have expensive chronic health problems, giving the insurance industries a financial reason to deny health care services and support for them. However, our lives are not supposed to be about someone else’s bottom line.

We urge the people of Illinois to say “No” to any bill introducing assisted suicide. 
Assisted suicide will only enable further healthcare discrimination against disabled people and other minorities. 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. In the future, Access Living will continue to oppose MAID as we believe that the ableism we experience in life will translate in discrimination in death. 

Call to Action: We urge Illinoisans to contact your state legislators to express your concerns related to the dangers of assisted suicide/MAID for disabled people.
 We’ve set up a quick and easy email action alert for you at this link. Expect more alerts on this topic from Access Living as we dig into 2024 Illinois legislative advocacy.

Thank you for your advocacy. Stay tuned for more opportunities coming up soon!

Current Job Openings at Access Living

Community Development Organizer – Disability and Racial Justice
Diversion & Reentry Policy Analyst
Program Coordinator – Survivors of Gun Violence
(Part-Time) Gun Violence Survivors Peer Support Coordinator
Independent Living Technology Program (ILTP) Coordinator