Attitudes towards assisted dying are influenced by question wording and order: a survey experiment

BMC Medical Ethics 17 (1):24 (2016)
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BackgroundSurveys on attitudes towards assisted dying play an important role in informing public debate, policy and legislation. Unfortunately, surveys are often designed with insufficient attention to framing effects; that is, effects on the respondents’ stated attitudes caused by question wording and context. The purpose of this study was to demonstrate and measure such framing effects.MethodsSurvey experiment in which an eight-question survey on attitudes towards assisted dying was distributed to Norwegian citizens through a web-based panel. Two variations of question wording as well as two variations of question order were employed. Respondents were randomized to receive one of four questionnaire versions.ResultsThree thousand and fifty responses were received. There were moderate to large question wording and question order effects. A majority of Norwegian citizens favour the legalization of assisted dying for patients with terminal or chronic disease.ConclusionsStakeholders in the assisted dying debate need to acknowledge potential framing effects, and accordingly should interpret survey results with caution. The same holds for researchers who conduct attitude surveys in the field of bioethics.



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