Assisted suicide legislation introduced in Illinois General Assembly

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, April 3, 2024

A bill recently introduced in the Illinois General Assembly would make it legal for a physician or advanced practice nurse to prescribe an array of drugs to someone diagnosed with a terminal illness who wants to end their life.

The Catholic Church opposes assisted suicide, which is legal in 10 states. Several other states have similar legislation pending.

While a hearing on the bill, SB 3499,  has yet to be scheduled, Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said Catholics should start educating themselves about it and contact their legislators to  oppose it.

The conference has developed materials that explain the church’s teaching against assisted suicide, along with announcements for bulletins, a novena and talking points.

“We believe that our lives don’t belong to ourselves, that we are a gift from God and we don’t have the authority or the ability to take our own lives,” Gilligan said. “Our church teaches that ending life prematurely through assisted suicide is actually a sin. And more than that, it doesn’t acknowledge the full power of God’s teachings and what our faith says about it.”

Not only is assisted suicide bad theology, but it is bad public policy, he said, citing several problematic issues.

“The first is coercion,” he said. “The second is the role of insurance companies in this issue. And the third is the slippery slope argument. I’ll even go one more and say there’s actually a fourth. It’s called a suicide contagion.”

A person can easily be coerced into taking the drugs even if they change their mind, Gilligan noted, adding that the medical provider’s role ends once the prescription is written.

“What if there are people in the home who are now coercing that individual to do something that maybe they thought they wanted to do originally, but now they’ve changed their mind?” Gilligan said. “Now that person is running around in their home with drugs sufficient to kill themselves. There’s no person out there that could act as a third party validator and make sure that this is being done properly.”

The second concern is that insurance companies could see prescribing assisted suicide drugs as being more cost effective than covering an expensive treatment for a person’s illness.

“I like to call attention to the poor and the marginalized, who often have insufficient health care coverages, so they’re more vulnerable here than probably those of us who have decent insurance coverage,” Gilligan said. “Also, the disability community is terrified of this. They know that disabled people do not get the same health care treatments just because of who they are and maybe the way they look.”

He also cautioned about the slippery slope the state could go down if the bill becomes law. For example, as the legislation is currently written, a person must be an Illinois resident to receive the medication, but that could always be lifted, as is being pushed for in other states.

Also, currently it would only be for a person with a terminal illness, but that could change later too, Gilligan said.

“My point is, once you put this on the table as an option for end-of-life care, that is a very slippery slope. And, unfortunately, I think it leads to a situation where killing has become the solution to alleviate pain,” he said.

Lastly, Gilligan said there is research done in states with assisted suicide that shows once it becomes law, the number of non-assisted suicides increases.

Increased palliative care can be an alternative to assisted suicide.

“Palliative care is a relatively new area of medicine that attempts to provide comfort care at the end of life. So people at the end of their life don’t have to experience pain and they can get through their end times here in a way that’s dignified and respectful,” he said. “Catholic hospitals in particular are very good at this. Rainbow Hospice that’s provided by Ascension is one of the leaders in the field. And there are very there are a lot of good palliative care places out there.”

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  • suicide
  • end-of-life care
  • illinois legislature

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