ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

Font Size:  Small  Medium  Large

Lack of universalism and similarity in the analysis of "end-of-life issues"? National deviations in equivalence and consequences for cross-national research

Tilo Beckers

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 6 - Law Building, Room 022
Date: 2012-07-10 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2011-12-19


Despite the restrictions in available survey time in large scale surveys it is important to improve specific attitude measurements on a theory-driven basis. The available cross-national data sources such as the ISSP and the EVS/WVS survey series often provide simple one-item measurements, e.g. for moral attitudes. The EVS/WVS uses a battery of item topics which can “never be justified”, “always be justified” or “something in between” on a ten-point scale. This instrument also includes an end-of-life issue which has become a major topic in many national political arenas in Europe and North America: euthanasia. The vague and questionable definition used in EVS/WVS is: “terminating the life of the incurably sick”).

In the German survey, this definition has translated, and the term “euthanasia” is attached in brackets. But research has shown that this term is strongly connected with the Third Reich and Nazi Policies of killing specific groups of citizens. While earlier waves of the EVS used the latinized German Word “Euthanasie”, the latest EVS wave in 2008 included a sample split allowing for a comparison of results between the earlier version and the German term “Sterbehilfe” (together with the definition). The statistical analysis provides evidence for a systematically lower estimation of the acceptance of euthanasia as compared to “Sterbehilfe”.

Although this issue is first a national measurement problem it points at further cross-national consequences and problems which . In a first step, I compare the results with the German language (sub)samples in Austria and Switzerland, in a second step, other cultural and linguistic deviations in the understanding of euthanasia and the provided definition are discussed on the basis of substantial and theory driven research on end-of-life issues, and in a third step, I propose to use a more transparent and unequivocal operationalization to pay as much tribute as possible to different cultural particularities, dissimilarities and thought patterns while maintaining a large degree of cross-cultural comparability. These are two items delineating two different forms of ending-of-life for the justify-scale (EVS/WVS) and four variations as an analogue to questions on abortion reasons (ISSP template).

The proposals may help to improve research on these issues in future rounds of cross-national surveys, issues which may gain in importance in the context of aging societies facing the problem of a much larger share of very old and (incurably) sick people who may wish to die. But the proposals also point at a more general problem: cross-national survey research depends on a much larger number of topic specific experts and who should be involved as early as possible in the planning process to avoid simplifications and linguistic and cultural ethnocentrism in source questionnaires.