This article presents the methods, findings, and implications of a participatory action research project that attempted to shed additional light on the debate over death with dignity (DWD) or physician-assisted suicide(PAS) legislation. In-depth, qualitative interviews with forty-five physically disabled residents of the San Francisco Bay Area, conducted by others with disabilities, revealed a wide breadth of opinions about and attitudes toward such legislation. For close to half of the participants, the desire for autonomy in making end-of-life decisions was a primary concern, yet fear that PAS legislation could violate this autonomy in various ways was a deep concern as well. Also reported were widespread accounts of disability-based discrimination and frequent expressions of fear about openly discussing positions that diverge from the official, publicly held opinions of disability leaders who oppose such legislation. The findings support those of a recent Harris poll demonstrating considerable diversity of opinion about PAS legislation among people with disabilities. The findings further suggest the need for additional research on the apparent disjunction between the diversity of attitudes held by those interviewed and the more unified position taken by many disability activists. Use of the study findings to promote greater dialogue within the community and to better position people with disabilities to take their place at the policy table also is discussed. In addition, the findings are seen as reinforcing the need for the public health community to become more engaged in this central ethical debate.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.