April 12, 2024

Eye On Illinois: End-of-life legislation sure to prompt heavy, important conversations

“I’m not scared of dying, and I don’t really care. If it’s peace you find in dying, well then, let the time be near.”

So sang David Clayton-Thomas on the 1968 Blood, Sweat & Tears cover of Laura Nyro’s song “And When I Die.” Perhaps it’s because it just popped up on my playlist over the weekend, but I couldn’t help but recall that phrase while reading a Daily Herald report on Senate Bill 3499, the End-Of-Life Options for Terminally Ill Patients Act.

State Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, introduced the bill Feb. 9 and state Sen. Laura Fine, D-Glenview, joined as a co-sponsor Feb. 14. It would make Illinois the 11th state to enact similar legislation, a trend that began in Oregon with a statewide referendum in 1994. Advocates seek to avoid the clinical or technical framework of physician-assisted suicide.

“This gives you the dignity to make that decision to have those final conversations with your loved ones and to go without fear and without great pain,” Holmes told Alicia Fabbre.

Opponents are unmoved.

Robert Gilligan is executive director for the Catholic Conference of Illinois, part of the Stop Assisted Suicide Illinois coalition.

“We think there’s a better path for people who are in end-of-life situations and are faced with difficult decisions about the remaining months or years of their lives,” Gilligan said.

The coalition’s website cites insurance companies that push end-of-life decisions while denying coverage of “standard, life-saving medical procedures,” states “terminal diagnoses are not always fatal” and asserts such policies exacerbate challenges for people with physical or developmental disabilities who “often face oppressive cultural values characterizing the need for help as undignified or burdensome to others.”

Under the Illinois proposal, only a patient deemed mentally capable could choose this path, with statutory protections against a family member seeking or coercing the outcome. Doctors would have to inform such patients of other care options, like palliative and hospice care. Patients would have to meet with two different doctors at least five days apart and put their request in writing before self-administering their own fatal dose.

I’m not trying to decide what’s right in terms of state law, but considering someone diagnosed with an incurable disease, seeking the right words to discuss their fate with multiple medical professional, then reading over the form as the words sink in and trying to summon the emotional strength to move the pen and sign off on eternity.

“All I ask of living is to have no chains on me, and all I ask of dying is to go naturally.”

Natural death is a legal term. What if nature itself locks those chains on your physical form?

It’s a heavy conversation, but one well worth having.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on X @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.