Update on Assisted Suicide Advocacy in Illinois


February 12, 2020 | by Amber Smock

Dear Access Living friends and allies,

Today, we’d like to update you on the ongoing advocacy efforts related to the City of Evanston proposed resolution to support state legislation on assisted suicide.

On Monday evening, advocates from Access Living, Progress Center, Chicago ADAPT and Not Dead Yet attended the City of Evanston City Council meeting to provide public comment on the proposed resolution. A number of advocates from Compassion & Choices, which supports assisted suicide, were also present. The members of the City Council had been hearing from all these advocates in the days leading up to the meeting.

At the beginning of the public comment, a spokesperson for Compassion & Choices announced that they would like to see the resolution withdrawn in order to have more community conversations on the topic. City Council did allow a number of people on both sides to provide comment on the topic regardless. Both sides then provided testimony. While the withdrawal is an important victory for those who oppose assisted suicide, it is evident that sustained education about assisted suicide and the damage to people with disabilities must go on. Conversations about assisted suicide MUST include the voices of people with disabilities.

We see there are two common misconceptions about assisted suicide and disability. One is that assisted suicide is not “for people with disabilities.” In reality, any person with a terminal illness is actually a person with a disability, who experiences barriers to major life activities under the ADA definition. The other is that assisted suicide legalization in other states, such as Oregon, offers data that shows that assisted suicide is safe and doesn’t harm anyone. Those who insist on this point are clearly failing to read the recorded data’s inclusion of a range of disability issues. According to the Oregon Health Authority, the top five reasons for issuing lethal prescriptions are loss of autonomy (92%), reduced ability to engage in activities (90%), loss of dignity (79%), loss of control of bodily functions (48%), and feelings of being a burden (41%). These are all disability considerations.

We also heard, on Monday night, dismissal of disability advocates’ concern about a “slippery slope” of assisted suicide’s harm to disabled people. In actuality, the discussion we are having is not about hypotheticals, or what could happen. We are talking about harm that actually has occurred. Quoting the following bullet points from the National Council on Disability’s 2019 report, The Danger of Assisted Suicide Laws:

  • Insurers have denied expensive, lifesustaining medical treatment but offered to subsidize lethal drugs, potentially leading patients toward hastening their own deaths.
  • Misdiagnoses of terminal disease can also cause frightened patients to hasten their deaths.
  • People with the disability of depression are subject to harm where assisted suicide is legal.
  • Demoralization in people with disabilities is often based on internalized oppression, such as being conditioned to regard help as undignified and burdensome, or to regard disability as an inherent impediment to quality of life. Demoralization can also result from the lack of options that people depend on. These problems can lead patients toward hastening their deaths-and doctors who conflate disability with terminal illness or poor quality of life are ready to help them. Moreover, most health professionals lack training and experience in working with people with disabilities, so they don’t know how to recognize and intervene in this type of demoralization.
  • Financial and emotional pressures can distort patient choice.
  • Assisted suicide laws apply the lowest culpability standard possible to doctors, medical staff, and all other involved parties, that of a good-faith belief that the law is being followed, which creates the potential for abuse.

We at Access Living continue to maintain our position that assisted suicide legislation can and will harm people with disabilities. That harm is on record. Assisted suicide is a critical civil rights issue, which is deeply uncomfortable and personal for many, but in the end when we fight for choices and empowerment, they need to be real choices, not an illusion.