The Right to Die - A Role Playing Activity

Barbara Fendley and Janis Lariviere
1991 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute

The American Medical Association contends that a majority of your students will be faced with the decision of maintaining a relative on a life support system. In this activity students will be asked to consider the problems inherent in this dilemma. They investigate this concept through role playing. The purpose of this activity is not to find the "right answer", but to expose students to this growing problem in our society and to encourage them to clarify their own feelings through a decision making process.

A model which lends itself to this is a Hospital Ethics Review Committee. Students should be assigned to or volunteer for the following roles:

  • Review Committee - priest, rabbi, minister, 2 doctors, 2 nurses, 2 hospital administrators (business office and public relations)
  • People who will appear before the review committee - parents, friends, relatives, insurance company representative, doctor for the family, doctor for the hospital

Note: This model can be adapted to the size of your class by altering the number of cases which are brought before the Review Committee.


After assigning the roles, the students need to be presented with the cases to be used. [These cases can be imaginary or ones which have appeared in the news media such as Karen Quinlan and Nancy Cruzan. Students could be assigned library research in order to familiarize themselves with the facts of each case or to find more current cases.] After the students have researched the cases, they will prepare their roles in small groups. The Review Committee should face the class. Students will present their positions to the Review Committee. Upon completion this committee will discuss in open forum the merits of each case. The activity is concluded by a vote of the Hospital Review Committee. They can choose to deliver one of the following recommendations:
a) removal from life support
b) continuation on life support
c) referral to the courts


  1. It will probably be possible to cover two case appeals in one class period. It might be beneficial for these two cases to concern two people of greatly different ages. Attitudes are often different when age is a variable.
  2. A closure activity on the following class day may consist of a discussion of the previous day's events. Living wills or your state's equivalent could be introduced for the students' consideration.
  3. This activity may be extended through the use of local speakers representing one or more of the above roles. Call your local hospital for assistance.


Bender, David et al, Euthanasia - Opposing Viewpoints, Greenhaven Press, Inc., San Diego, 1989.

Woodrow Wilson Index

Activities Exchange Index

Custom Search on the AE Site