While researching physician assisted suicide legislation this past week, I noticed something odd when I Googled the topic.
After I typed “physician assisted” into Google, the search engine’s autocomplete function suggested searches related to “physician assisted death.”
I then started to type out “physician assisted suicide,” but as soon as I typed the “s,” all suggestions disappeared.
Out of curiosity, I visited Google Trends to see how searches in the United States over the past year compare between the two terms. As expected, “physician assisted suicide” has consistently been a more popular search term than “physician assisted death.”
Next, I pulled up Bing and Yahoo! to see what these search engines would fill in when I typed “physician assisted.” Each site pulled up multiple “physician assisted suicide” suggestions prior to any terms related to “physician assisted death.”
Google is transparent about the fact that they censor autocomplete suggestions for offensive content; however, they have also been accused of ideologically driven censorship. While the above screenshots are not evidence in themselves of an agenda, it is worth noting even subtle ways that corporations can influence public opinion on bioethical issues. Vocabulary and branding are especially powerful tools in swaying sentiments, as those trying to steer people to the term “physician assisted death” are well aware.
Janie Valentine holds a Master of Arts in Bioethics from Trinity International University and writes from Kenosha, WI. This post originally appeared on Bioethics @ TIU on February 27.