Saturday, March 9, 2024

Access Living’s Amber Smock Quoted Extensively In Chicago Tribune

By Diane Coleman [pictured here]

Three days ago, Amber Smock, Vice President of Advocacy at Access Living, was quoted extensively in a Chicago Tribune article about Illinois’ assisted suicide bill. Today, the editorial board of the Tribune took a position opposed to the bill.

The March 5th article, “Should Illinois become a ‘right-to-die’ state? Lawmakers consider end-of-life option for terminally ill adults,” covered both sides. Here is the segment giving Access Living’s perspective as a disability rights organization:

Yet some disability rights advocates warn that the measure could put vulnerable populations at risk, including seniors, disabled folks and people with mental health issues.

“An option that’s meaningful for a few will create a lot of problems for a lot more people,” Amber Smock, vice president of advocacy for Access Living, a Chicago-based disability service nonprofit said during an interview with the Tribune. “There are safeguards but they won’t protect everyone from unintended consequences from this particular bill.” 

“Folks with disabilities often face discrimination and bias in health care, and they are already at risk of criminal neglect or abuse,” Smock said.

She worries that patients could be steered or coerced into ending their lives, particularly by insurance companies, who she fears might view physician-assisted suicide as a cheaper alternative to more expensive treatments or care.

“There is simply almost no way to ensure that a person with a disability who asks for (medical aid in dying) is not somehow being coerced by family, their doctor, or insurance companies,” she said in a written statement. “Furthermore, existing (medical aid in dying) programs tend to set a high level of burden of proof on the patient to show that they have been coerced. (Medical aid in dying) supporters claim that there is no evidence that people are ‘steered’ or coerced; that’s because it’s hard to meaningfully report it.”

A National Council on Disability 2019 report on the nation’s medically assisted suicide laws said that “insurers have denied expensive, life-sustaining medical treatment, but offered to subsidize lethal drugs, potentially leading patients to hasten their own deaths.” 

The report also argues that misdiagnoses of terminal illness can scare patients into hastening death; while fear and depression often spur assisted suicide requests, “referral for psychological evaluation is extremely rare,” the National Council on Disability said at the time.

“As someone who has battled cancer and been given weeks to live and am still thriving years later, I know firsthand that well-intending doctors are often wrong,” Neil Romano, the National Council on Disability’s chairman at the time, said in a statement. “If assisted suicide is legal, lives will be lost due to mistakes, abuse, lack of information, or a lack of better options; no current or proposed safeguards can change that.” 

Smock added that Illinois residents already have other end-of-life options such as advance directives, filling out “do not resuscitate” forms and refusing medical treatment.

“In the future, Access Living will continue to oppose (medical aid in dying) as we believe that the ableism we experience in life will translate in discrimination in death,” she said in the statement.