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Evanston City Council Weighing Whether To Call For 'Dying With Dignity' Legislation For Illinois

EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) -- Should people with only months to live be allowed to end their lives legally?

As CBS 2's Vince Gerasole reported, Evanston leaders had been expected to vote Monday night on whether to support new legislation. But the Evanston City Council did not end up voting and ended up removing the item from the Monday night agenda.

Supporters wanted the item withdrawn so they could have more time to talk about it.

The vote would have been the first of its kind in Illinois – but it was to be more conceptual than anything else. Evanston is deciding on whether to officially go on record in urging the State of Illinois to pass legislation allowing terminally ill patients to avoid pain and take their own lives.

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The vote drew supporters and opponents to the Evanston Civic Center Monday night, from beyond the city's borders.

"He said to me so many times, 'I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up,'" said Fay Clayton of Compassion and Choices.

Clayton was describing the painful death of a dear and terminally-ill friend. That friend's experience is one of the reasons she became an advocate for what's often called "medical aid in dying."

"I would hope that if I or any of my other friends or family members contract a terminal illness, we'll be able to consider this option," Clayton said.

The concept is sometimes called dying with dignity.

Oregon was the first to pass a Medical Aid in Dying Act 22 years ago. Now, nine states as well as the District of Columbia have legalized the process.

"It is not suicide," Clayton said.

Clayton is among those urging the Evanston City Council to throw its support behind upcoming state legislation that would legalize the process.

"It's complicated," she said. "There are so many safeguards some people think it's too many."

Supporters say the concept would only be available to adults given less than six months to live, and judged by several doctors to be mentally sound regarding their decision.

If approved, they would be given potentially lethal prescriptions to use when they saw fit.

But the idea is not without detractors.

"Is this a real choice or a false choice?" said Amber Smock of Access Living.

Advocates for those with disabilities say medical aid in dying has a negative impact on their community. They said those living with disabilities make up the majority requesting what they call suicide assistance - patients who should first be offered suicide prevention counseling.

"There have been instances where health insurance companies have offered people with disabilities assisted suicide instead of life-saving treatment," Smock said. "That's a problem."

Supporters say a third of people who are given lethal prescriptions don't even use them. They find comfort in knowing it's an option.

Opponents, who say the process is indeed suicide, said suicide rates have gone up 40% in the states where medical aid in dying is legal.

In addition to Oregon, the states that allow medical aid in dying include California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington State.

According to the Death With Dignity National Center, Illinois last considered the issue in 1997, and there are no bills currently before legislators in Springfield.

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