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Right-To-Die Conference In Chicago Draws Protest

(CBS) -- Chicago this week is the focus of the ongoing controversy over the right to die.

Advocates for assisted suicide from around the world are meeting in Streeterville, while opponents are protesting outside.

"It has to be a very personal decision based on the medical and ethical circumstances," says the "godfather" of the physician-assisted suicide movement, Derek Humphry.

Humphry said he sees progress "bit by bit" toward implementing laws similar to those on the books in Oregon, Washington and Vermont. Court rulings in Montana and Wisconsin have effectively given doctors the right to work with terminally ill patients who wish to end their lives.

Right-To-Die Conference Draws Opponents

Outside of the Embassy Suites Hotel, at 511 N. Columbus Drive, a persistent group of protesters have staged a sit-in. They claim to represent groups from across the country and beyond but are united for the conference as the group "Not Dead Yet."

Its CEO, Diane Coleman, said that what people considering assisted suicide need is care, not a lethal prescription.

"They deserve to have the support, whatever treatment they need for depression, whatever home care they need so they don't feel like they're a burden on their family," she said.

Coleman contends that many of those who eventually opt for assisted suicide do so because they don't get the care and believe they are a burden.

Humphry said he believes the deciding decision for most is pain, and said the Oregon, Washington and Vermont laws specifically exclude those who seek lethal assistance merely because they are elderly or handicapped.

Coleman warns of a "slippery slope" that could lead to euthanasia of the unwilling, and says it is already being done in some European nations. She says even in those states that now allow physician-assisted suicide, there are no independent outside monitors present to make sure that is what the patient wants.

Proponents say that laws in the three states require two doctors to sign off on paperwork for those who seek assistance in dying.

"It's an individual call of the person, not a judgment that anyone else can make," said Frank Kavanaugh, a board member of the host group Final Exit.

The meeting of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies is meeting in the United States for the first time since 2000, when it met in Boston. Some of the protesters, including Coleman, said this may be their last chance to debate the issues with proponents.

"I barely can travel any more. I'm getting too old," she said. "I did it because I have to."

Proponents remain equally committed.

"This is the ultimate personal and civil liberty, the right to choose when and how to die at the end of your life," Humphry said.

The conference runs through Saturday.




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