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Disagreement With a Hedged Survey Question Does Not Tell Us Much

Robert M. Hamm, PhD
Arch Intern Med. 1995;155(6):641. doi:10.1001/archinte.1995.00430060105013.
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There are flawed questions in the survey that Shapiro et al used in their article on "Willingness to Perform Euthanasia,"1 and these questions illustrate one of the pitfalls of asking people to rate how much they agree with complicated statements.

Respondents were asked to rate how much they agree with statements about "limiting" euthanasia to specific subclasses of people, eg, "Euthanasia should be limited to competent adults who request it as a result of their present situation and prognosis for recovery." But there are two ways to disagree with this statement: either euthanasia should never be used, or euthanasia should not be restricted only to that class of patient; so the responses to the question tell us little. While the results showed that significantly more Wisconsin Christian Fundamentalists and Catholics disagreed with the statement, had the same question been asked in Massachusetts significantly more atheists and mainline Protestants might


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