BMC Medical Ethics
Attitudes towards assisted dying are influenced by question wording and order: a survey experiment
BMC Medical EthicsBMC series – open, inclusive and trusted201617:24
© Magelssen et al. 2016
Received: 18 December 2015
Accepted: 21 April 2016
Published: 27 April 2016
Surveys 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.
Survey 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.
Three 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.
Stakeholders 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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