Peg Sandeen, PhD, MSW

Peg Sandeen, PhD, MSW
Peg Sandeen, PhD, MSW

Congratulations to Dr. Peg Sandeen, our remarkably achieving Executive Director. Peg was recently awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy in Social Work and Social Research from Portland State University.

Peg is the Executive Director of the Death With Dignity National Center—a position she has held for the past eight years. Her responsibilities for this national organization are tremendous, it’s a demanding and more than a full-time position. Under Peg’s leadership, the organization assumed a critical role in two state initiative campaigns and the recent legislative effort in Vermont. Two of these three efforts resulted in the passage of new state laws.

The first, Washington State in 2008 won with nearly 60% of voters supporting the initiative. In 2012, Massachusetts voters came within a percent of becoming the first state on the east coast with a Death with Dignity Act. This honor instead went to Vermont whose legislature in May 2013 advanced a bill for the governor’s signature. Death With Dignity National Center had worked with the Vermont team for almost 10 years. Peg’s skillful management of these efforts was outstanding and contributed significantly to the overwhelming victory in the one state, the near victory in the other, and the first success through legislation in Vermont.

Death with Dignity National Center board members have the utmost respect and adulation for Peg. We appreciate her vision, her deep knowledge of the Death with Dignity movement, her executive director skills, her attention to detail and the high standards she sets for herself. In just eight years, Peg has established herself as an accomplished leader in the Death with Dignity movement who is recognized for her political acumen, honed by her experiences in Washington, Massachusetts and Vermont.

Despite her demanding job responsibilities Peg somehow found the time to complete the extensive requirements for her doctorate including cutting edge research. Her dissertation entitled: “Public Opinion and the Oregon Death with Dignity Act” examined “public opinion and the changes in public opinion about the Oregon Death with Dignity Act from 1993 to 2012.”

Peg conducted a cross-sectional survey of Oregon voters with a battery of questions to assess current public opinion about Death with Dignity, and the way in which individual and collective public opinion may have evolved since Oregon implemented the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. She studied the patterns of support among specific groups and described how and why it changed over time. Peg found, “The results demonstrate that support for death with dignity has grown through the years in Oregon, currently 80% of registered Oregon voters support the law,”—a growth in supporters of about 20% from the last time Oregon voters voted on the law in 1997.

A theoretical question addressed in Peg’s dissertation involved the relationship between public opinion, public policy and passage of socially progressive laws. Peg applied this theoretical framework to a review of attempts in the US to legalize Death with Dignity through the legislature and through initiatives. Peg’s thoughtful analysis points to the importance of moving public opinion in shaping public policy on progressive issues and the implications of changing public policy of Death with Dignity more globally within the US.

An interesting and important dimension of Peg’s dissertation is its implications in the field of social work. Peg’s educational background and work experience is as a social worker. Acknowledging social workers are not typically involved in political action, Peg argued the National Association for Social Workers Code of Ethics includes a call-to-action for social workers to be politically involved as follows: “Social workers should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice.” Peg envisioned a role for the “social worker as policy expert” in advocating for Death with Dignity. Peg has established herself as a leader in her field of social work as well as in the Death with Dignity movement. Peg’s erudition is exemplary, her conclusion is a valuable contribution to the social work profession and merits wide recognition.

Peg’s analysis and findings have important implications which extend beyond Oregon and provide theoretical foundations for changing public opinion, public policy, and laws related to Death with Dignity in other states. It’s a scholarly work that makes a significant contribution to the field. We’re extremely proud of her and honored to have the benefit of her leadership.

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