Definition of Euthanasia, active

Euthanasia, active: The active acceleration of a "good" death by use of drugs etc, whether by oneself or with the aid of a doctor.

The word "euthanasia" comes from the Greek -- "eu", goodly or well + "thanatos", death = the good death -- and for 18th-century writers in England that was what euthanasia meant, a "good" death, a welcome way to depart quietly and well from life. Today the most commonly understood meaning of euthanasia is more than this old dictionary definition of dying well a good and easy death. Euthanasia refers, for example, to the situation when a doctor induces the death with a lethal injection, of a patient who is suffering without relief and has persistently requested the doctor to do so.

Suicide, whether irrational or rational, for unrelated reasons is not euthanasia. Nor is the forced killing of another person.

The Netherlands is the only country in the world where euthanasia is openly practiced. There, euthanasia and assisted suicide are defined by the State Commission on Euthanasia. Euthanasia is the intentional termination of life by somebody other than the person concerned at his or her request. Assisted suicide means intentionally helping a patient to terminate his or her life at his or her request. Euthanasia is the termination of life by a doctor at the express wish of a patient. The request to the doctor must be voluntary, explicit and carefully considered and it must have been made repeatedly. Moreover, the patient's suffering must be unbearable and without any prospect of improvement.

Pain relief administered by a Dutch doctor may shorten a patient's life. As is the case in other countries, this is seen as a normal medical decision in terminal care and not as euthanasia.

Euthanasia is a matter of continuing controversy, a tinderbox for debate, an issue on which positions range widely and include enthusiastic advocacy, guarded acceptance, outright rejection, and vehement condemnation, equating euthanasia with murder.


Last Editorial Review: 6/14/2012

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