Does voluntary assisted dying cause public stigma for the bereaved? A vignette-based experiment

Sarah Philippkowski, Moira O'Connor*, Maarten C Eisma, Lindy Willmott, Andrew R Johnson, Lauren J Breen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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OBJECTIVE: Studies in countries where assisted dying is legal show that bereaved people express concern over the potential for social disapproval and social stigma because of the manner of death. There are indications that voluntary assisted dying is judged as less acceptable if the deceased is younger. A vignette-based experiment was used to determine whether public stigma (i.e., negative emotional reactions and desired social distance) and expected grief symptoms are higher for conjugally bereaved people through voluntary assisted dying (vs. long-term illness), when the deceased is a young adult (vs. older adult).

METHOD: A 2 × 2 randomized factorial design was conducted with 164 Australian adults (130 women, 34 men, Mage = 37.69 years). Each participant was randomized online to read one of four vignettes and completed measures of anger, fear, prosocial emotions, desire for social distance, and expectations of grief symptomatology.

RESULTS: A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted. Death at a young age (28 years) was significantly associated with stronger negative emotional reactions of fear ($\eta _p^2 = 0.04$, P = 0.048) and anger ($\eta _p^2 = 0.06$, P = 0.010). There were no differences in outcomes associated with the mode of death, nor was there an interaction between mode of death and age group.

SIGNIFICANCE OF RESULTS: Concerns that voluntary assisted dying elicits public stigma appear unfounded. The fact that participants reported significantly higher anger and fear in response to bereaved people experiencing loss at a younger (vs. older) age, irrespective of cause of death, indicates that young people who lose their spouse might benefit from additional support.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)558-562
Number of pages5
JournalPalliative & supportive care
Issue number5
Early online date5-Jan-2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct-2021

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