Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Passive Euthanasia Definition:

Intentionally withholding a life-saving medical procedure so as to not artificially prevent death.

Related Terms: Active Euthanasia, Euthanasia, Heroic Measures, Extraordinary Life-Sustaining Treatment

Sometimes referred to as letting die.

"Euthanasia has been understood to mean a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending life to relieve intractable suffering.

"Passive euthanasia" often describes the withdrawal or withholding of some treatment necessary for the continuation of the patient's life."1

In the 1981 case of John Storar, Justice Wachtler of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York acknowledged:

"... the problem of judicial involvement in passive euthanasia (sometimes called dysthanasia) - the deliberate withholding or withdrawal of available clinical means for the prolongation of the life of a patient for whom there is little or no hope of recovery or survival. Treating as the subject does with irreversible decisions affecting life and death, we approach, and even may be thought by some to trespass on, the domain of Providence. Few areas of judicial activity present such awesome questions or demand greater judicial wisdom and restraint."

According to the West Encyclopedia of American Law, passive euthanasia is:

"... hastening the death of a person by altering some form of support and letting nature take its course.... Examples include ... turning off respirators, halting medication, discontinuing food and water .. or failure to resuscitate."


  • Lehman, J. and Phelps, S., editors, West Encyclopedia of American Law, 2nd Ed. (Farmington Hills: Thomson Gale, 2005), volume 4, page 236
  • Matter of John Storar, 52 NY 2d 363
  • NOTE 1:
  • Leng, Ter Kah, Sy, Susanna Leong Huey, Advanced Medical Directives in Singapore, 5 Med. L. Rev. 63 (1997), at page 66

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