Illinois Compassionate Quarterly – Spring 2022

March 21, 2022

As we spring forward to expand our daylight hours, we are doing the same with our movement here in Illinois — educating and advocating to expand end-of-life options, including medical aid in dying.   As you read on, we think you will be heartened by the wide range of activities and events occurring in the weeks ahead.

Local Update

Illinois volunteers have been reaching out to their local communities to spread the word about medical aid in dying and advance care planning.

Letters to the Editor:
On January 28, the Champaign News-Gazette published a letter to the editor by Champaign-Urbana Action Team member Colleen Vojak in response to a column by George Will in support of medical aid in dying. On March 13, the Daily Herald published a letter to editor by Northwest Suburban Action Team Leader Nancy Betkerabout the importance of advance care planning.

Virtual Community Events:

  • On February 6, the North Suburban Action Team presented to Congregation Hakafa about advance care planning and medical aid in dying.
  • On February 28, the Illinois Action Team hosted a regional event, “Black History Month: Disparities at End of Life” featuring Rebecca Thoman, M.D. and Donna Smith.
  • On March 4, the Attorney Action Team presented virtually to the Health Law Society at UIC Law School about medical aid in dying and what lawyers need to know in serving their clients about end of life planning.
  • On March 10, Compassion & Choices President Emerita and Senior Advisor Barbara Coombs Lee presented “The Past, Present and What We Can Do for the Future of Medical Aid in Dying” to more than 130 attendees. Action Team Leaders and other volunteers facilitated breakout sessions on how to get engaged in the movement.
  • On March 15, the Chicago Action Team presented at an event hosted by the Friends of the Logan Square Library. The session focused on end of life options and planning.

If you would like to join the movement, we welcome you to join a local Action Team or start a new one! Please contact Amy Sherman for more information.

National Update

Compassion & Choices’ advocacy team has been working with supporters to move medical aid-in-dying legislation. Bills were introduced in fifteen states this session. On March 8, Hawaiʻi HB 1823 and SB 2680 — which would improve the state’s existing medical aid-in-dying law — passed their final vote in their respective chambers. The House vote was 40 to 9 and the Senate vote was 22 to 3.

On November 19, 2021, Compassion & Choices filed in federal district court an amicus brief in Full Circle Living & Dying v. Sanchez in support of the rights of death doulas in California. More recently, the legal team reached a settlement in Almerico et al v. Denney et al, which concerned the pregnancy exclusion in Idaho’s advance directive law and made advance directives inapplicable for pregnant people.

On February 23, the Federal team held a Congressional Briefing, “The Progress of Medical Aid in Dying: Gains and Growth in End-of-Life Care.”

Spotlight: Eric Parker

Eric Parker

Eric Parker leads the Illinois End of Life Options Coalition’s Attorney Action Team. Eric is an elder law lawyer and a partner at Chicago law firm Stotis & Baird.

There has been some recent press questioning the value of advance care planning. Why is it important to do advance care planning and document your wishes in an advance directive?

The main function of an advance directive is to name a person you trust to make healthcare decisions for you if you become unable to decide. Advance directives also allow you to state your preferences about the type of care you want (or don’t want) during your life. They can be as specific or as general as you want them to be. They are important because the decisions will need to be made, whether you plan for them or not. The only question is whether you are going to have a say in who will make the decision.

Many states have a statute that will name a surrogate to make decisions if you don’t complete an advance directive. However, the state statute may not name the person that would be the best decision maker for you. Also, these statutes often provide more limited authority for the agent. A well drafted power of attorney lets your agent make almost all of the decisions you could have made if you were able to decide yourself.

What should people consider as they develop or revise powers of attorney for health care or other advance directives?

Who would you trust to make a good decision for you? That is the most important thing to consider. You will want to talk with that person about your wishes and make sure they know what you want. You also want to make sure that the person you choose will be available at the time you need them. Ideally, you should pick somebody who will advocate for your wishes.

One can’t be prepared for every eventuality at the end of life. How can one create an advance directive that is specific to one’s needs and wishes, but at the same time applies to future circumstances at one’s own end of life?

There are lots of opinions about how specific a power of attorney should be. In my view, a power of attorney should name an agent that you trust, and then give that person plenty of leeway to make the right decision. It can be difficult to predict what procedures might make sense under specific circumstances many years after the document was signed. As a person ages, and learns more about their specific health issues, it is a good idea to revisit the document and consider the likely treatment scenarios. For example, I might add different restrictions if I was diagnosed with early dementia, than I would if I was diagnosed with diabetes. Some people do have very specific preferences, and they have every right to include those in an advance directive.

You are the leader of the Illinois End of Life Options Coalition’s Attorney Action Team, which is advocating for successful introduction of medical aid in dying. Can you speak a little about your role?

I have long thought that Illinois should have a Medical Aid in Dying law. I believe this as an individual, but I also meet clients every week that want this option for themselves. When the opportunity came up to help get lawyers involved in this movement, I was really happy to participate. It has given me the chance to work with some fantastic lawyers from all different areas of practice. The one thing that we all have in common is that we want people to have the right to choose for themselves what kind of life and death they want. It has been great to see lawyers who are eager to stand up for an important civil right.

Upcoming Events

Want to learn how to effectively advocate for end-of-life care options? Join us for a two-day Train the Advocate workshop on April 7 and 8, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day. Register for the training here.

On Wednesday, April 13, at 6:30 p.m. CT, join Howard Brown Health and Compassion & Choices for an engaging program on end-of-life care and planning. Hear how planning ahead can make the difference when serious illness happens. Click or tap for more details and to RSVP.

Check out the following links for more information on upcoming and past events:

Storytellers: Don Pilcher

Don Pilcher’s story of his wife who died with Alzheimer’s disease underscores the importance of documenting and talking about end-of-life wishes.

If you would like to read others’ stories or share the struggles of navigating end-of-life options of your own or those of a loved one, click or tap here.

“Finish Strong” Challenge

National Healthcare Decisions Day is April 16. Elder Law Attorney Eric Parker, in the Spotlight above, highlighted the importance of identifying a medical power of attorney and documenting advance directives, as did Don Pilcher in the story above.

Our challenge to you: identify a medical power of attorney and complete your advance directives. Already completed them? Great! Be sure to make it a habit to review these decisions periodically.

Before You Go…

If you would like to become more involved with Compassion & Choices in Illinois,  please email Amy Sherman at [email protected]

If you have suggestions for future editions of this newsletter,  please email Patrick Donges at [email protected]

Compassion & Choices
Media Contacts

Sean Crowley
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Patricia A. González-Portillo
National Latino Media Director
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