February 19, 2020

Bioethicist lecture to look at Medical Aid in Dying possibilities in Illinois

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A presentation that assesses why a proposal that would allow terminally ill patients to obtain medical assistance to end their lives should be passed by the Illinois General Assembly is the focus of the 2020 John and Marsha Ryan Bioethicist in Residence lecture next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

Thaddeus Mason Pope, director of the Health Law Institute at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, will present “Medical Aid in Dying: Assessing the Illinois Patient Choices at End of Life Act.” 

The lecture is at 5 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the SIU School of Law in Carbondale. The lecture is free and the public is welcome.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to attend the Ryan Bioethicist in Residence lecture with Thaddeus Mason Pope at 5 p.m., Feb. 26, in the SIU School of Law courtroom. For more information or to arrange interviews, contact Mike Ruiz, assistant dean for career, alumni, and promotional services at mikeruiz@siu.edu or 618/453-8763. For the 9 a.m., Feb. 27 lecture in Springfield, contact Rikeesha Phelon, director of marketing and communications, SIU School of Medicine, at rphelon64@siumed.edu or 217/545-3854.

Among nation’s top-cited health law scholars

Pope is a foremost expert on medical law and clinical ethics with a special focus on patient rights and healthcare decision-making. He has more than 220 publications in leading medical journals, bioethics journals and law reviews. He is co-author of the definitive treatise “The Right to Die: The Law of End-of-Life Decisionmaking” and his “Medical Futility Blog” has more than 4 million page views.

“Terminally ill individuals in Illinois do not have the option of Medical Aid in Dying which would permit a physician to prescribe a lethal medication that the patient could self-administer,” Pope said.

There are several ways in which terminally ill individuals in Illinois can control the timing and manner of death, Pope said. They include:

  • Refusing life-sustaining interventions such as CPR, dialysis or mechanical ventilation.
  • Refusing potentially curative or life-prolonging interventions like chemotherapy.
  • Receiving palliative sedation to unconsciousness.

Other states permit Medical Aid in Dying

Presently, nine states, along with the District of Columbia, have Medical Aid in Dying laws. Pope said that Illinois advocates and Evanston-area legislators are laying the groundwork to introduce legislation in 2021.

The nine states with Medical Aid in Dying legislation on the books are: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. There are expectations that Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York could also enact laws this year, Pope said.

Polls show support

Pope said polls by organizations including Gallup show that a majority of the public support Medical Aid in Dying. It is typically opposed by right-to-life organizations, some religious organizations and some disability rights advocates, he said. 

“They are primarily concerned with the risk of error and abuse; that someone might get a lethal medication when they were not terminally ill or when they did not really want that,” Pope said. 

Pope will also present a lecture in Springfield 

In addition to the public lecture Pope, while at SIU, will present lectures on the same general topic to the Southern Illinois Healthcare Bioethics Committee and students on Feb. 27, and to faculty, students and medical providers at the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield on Feb. 28. Pope’s presentation in Springfield is at 9 a.m. in the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation 2A Curtis Theatre classroom. 

“Thaddeus Pope is one of the leading scholars in the field of Medical Assistance in Dying. The topic has more recently come to the attention of the public, in part, I think, because the Baby Boomer generation, known for its attempts to control the variables, is now old enough to be interested in controlling those variables at the end of life,” Marsha Ryan said. 

“In the name of autonomy, that is, the ability to decide for ourselves what we do with our bodies, there are those who are interested in applying that principle of autonomy to the last chapter of life, that is, death,” Ryan said. “We are pleased that Mr. Pope will be bringing his expertise to Carbondale and to Springfield so we can put what may be a contentious bioethical matter on the table for discussion.” 

Lecture series focuses on timely medical, legal ethics

This is the law school’s 15th bioethicist-in-residence lecture, and the 13th since John C. and Dr. Marsha G. Ryan endowed the visiting lecture series.

Founded in 2006, the John and Marsha Ryan Bioethicist-in-Residence program supports an annual residence and lecture by a law or medicine ethics scholar for the SIU schools of law and medicine.

Marsha Ryan earned her law degree from the SIU School of Law in 1987 and was an adjunct faculty member there for 30 years until 2017. She practiced general and breast surgery in Carbondale for 36 years until her retirement in 2017. John Ryan, a member of the law school’s inaugural class, is a longstanding attorney at Feirich, Green, Mager, Ryan in Carbondale.