Sociology ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-15-2019


Research on physician assisted suicide (PAS) has largely been neglected by sociological scholarship which has focused primarily on how demographic features affect support of this contentious issue. PAS represents a unique case to contribute to sociological knowledge on coalitions and framing, which has yet to fully understand how movement frames change over time and what factors makes coalition activity worth the effort. The current study addresses these gaps in the literature by studying how activist organizations that support (right-to-die) or resist (right-to-life) PAS, frame the issue. Specifically, this study aims to answer two research questions: (1) How do PAS social movement organizations appeal to medical and civil rights frames over time to depict ‘good’ and ‘bad’ deaths, and (2) How do PAS social movement organizations framing of good and bad death influence coalition activity? These questions are explored by conducting content analyses of two-hundred randomly selected media releases from right-to-life and right-to-die organizations from 1995-2018, in six U.S. states that have legalized PAS. This research finds that right-to-die movement frames have radically shifted away from emphasizing PAS as a civil right, to representing PAS as a medical option fully compatible with existing medical standards. Framing shifts were encouraged by a critical external event that offered protection for PAS as a medical treatment. I argue that transformations in framing facilitated key right-to-die medical coalitions. The right-to-die movement’s subsequent framing of death and dying has increasingly focused on traditional medical treatment options and the existential benefits of PAS. As a negative case to the right-to-die movement, right-to-life frames have remained centered on a disability rights interest and have eschewed coalition opportunities that might threaten the stability of movement frames.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Owen Whooley

Second Committee Member

Sharon Erickson Nepstad

Third Committee Member

Elizabeth Korver-Glenn


Coalitions, Framing, Assisted Suicide, right to die, right to life, medical aid in dying



Document Type