Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Euthanasia Definition:

The putting to death, by painless method, of a terminally-ill or severely debilitated person.

Related Terms: Suicide, Assisted Suicide, Passive Euthanasia, Active Euthanasia, Heroic Measures, Permanent Unconscious Condition, Terminal Condition

Comes from the Greek words for good & death.

The 2nd Edition of the West's Encyclopedia of American Law defines euthanasia as follows:

"... the act of killing an incurably ill person out of concern and compassion for that person's suffering. It is sometimes called mercy killing."

In Compassion in Dying v Washington State, at footnote #120, stresses the discordant views on the meaning of the term in law, as well as the relevance of the derivatives active euthanasia and passive euthanasia:

"[I]nvoluntary death, when the motive is benign or altruistic, we classify the act as euthanasia. There is, however, no universally accepted meaning for that term. Some commentators distinguish between active and passive euthanasia, for example, while others do not. We define euthanasia as the act or practice of painlessly putting to death persons suffering from incurable and distressing disease, as an act of mercy, but not at the person's request."

More fully, through the omission (intentionally withholding a life-saving medical procedure, also known as passive euthanasia) or commission of an act (active euthanasia).

Historically, euthanasia was simply known as the bringing upon of a gentle and easy death as in: "At her age, no one could have hoped for your mother anything but ... euthanasia" (1768, Burke).

In 1873, an article published in Oxford University's Contemporary Review opined, in words eerily applicable today:

"Mankind at different stages of culture differ utterly as to the morality of suicide and euthanasian homicide."

In Airedale N.H.S. Trust v Bland, Justice Goff of the House of Lords wrote:

"[T]o cross the Rubicon which runs between on the one hand the care of the living patient and on the other hand euthanasia - actively causing his death to avoid or to end his suffering. Euthanasia is not lawful at common law."

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