Date of Completion

Spring 5-10-2009

Thesis Advisor(s)

Lynne Goodstein

Honors Major



Family, Life Course, and Society | Mass Communication | Medicine and Health | Sociology


The Right to Die Debate is a recent but highly controversial moral matter. In particular, physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is an issue that has been evaded by the medical community for years. As of 1990, most states had never encountered the issue before and therefore did not have any laws in place to prohibit PAS (Strate et. al, 2005). Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a retired pathologist from Royal Oak Michigan was the first to publicly address PAS. He brought the issue into the limelight through a bizarre and crude series of assisted deaths that had a lasting impact on not only the Right to Die Debate as whole, but on public policy and both federal and state governmental agendas. This study focuses on the way in which the media, in particular the New York Times (NYT) has portrayed Dr. Jack Kevorkian as incompetent, morally culpable and in an overall negative light in the past twenty years. Applying Stanley Cohen’s 1972 theory of moral panic, a content analysis of NYT media publications between 1990 and 1999 supports Cohen’s theory and reveals that the media has created a moral panic surrounding Kevorkian. This has in turn led to public policy that prevents both terminally ill individuals and their doctors from having a desirable choice; that of voluntary euthanasia and PAS.