This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

To Succeed or Not to Succeed: How Do Political Influences, Culture, And Demographics of a State Affect the Passing of Physician Assisted Suicide Initiatives?




Crutchfield, Nikki

Type of Degree



Political Science


Today, many physicians are concerned with how to properly care for patients with terminal illnesses and unbearable pain. In deciding the best care possible, ethical and moral concerns have become an issue. Many feel patients should have more autonomy when making decisions regarding their care, but this expansion of autonomy has caused conflict. This conflict has encouraged new conversations on ethics as well as initiated new legislation and court cases to resolve these conflicts. Currently in the United States, with the exception of Oregon, helping another person commit suicide is a crime. In 1997, through an initiative, Oregon started allowing people who are terminally ill to obtain a lethal prescription from their physician to end their life. There have been four failed ballot initiatives between 1991 and 2000. In 1991, Washington citizens introduced Initiative 119 which was defeated by a vote of 54% to 46%. In 1992, California citizens introduced Proposition 161 which was defeated by a vote of 54% to 46%. In 1998, Michigan citizens introduced Proposal B which was defeated by a vote of 71% to 29%. In 2000, Maine citizens introduced Maine’s Death with Dignity Act which was defeated by a vote of 51% to 49%. This research analyzed the five states’ efforts to legalize physician assisted suicide to determine what factors affected the outcome of these initiatives. The research answered the question, what factors contributed to Oregon’s success and the defeat of the initiative in Washington, California, Michigan, and Maine? Six factors of each state were analyzed to answer this question which included governor influence, interest group influence, political culture, religion, age, and gender. The results concluded that governors, interest groups, religion, age, and gender affected the outcomes of these initiatives. A chi square analysis conducted on exit poll data from California, Oregon, and Michigan found that age and gender were statistically associated with physician assisted suicide whereas religion was not. Other factors may have also influenced the initiative outcomes. In Washington and Michigan, Jack Kevorkian’s killings may have adversely affected how citizens viewed PAS. In Oregon, a mother’s poignant testimony about helping her daughter die with pills may have influenced Oregon’s success, and in all five of the states, ad campaigns challenged citizens to think about the ramifications of legalizing physician assisted suicide and how their lives would be forever affected if physician assisted suicide was legalized in each of the five states.