What is euthanasia?

Photo by Aaron Burden

What is euthanasia exactly?

Euthanasia refers to ending one’s life on purpose in order to relief that person from pain and suffering. After all, the word euthanasia literally translates from Greek to “good death”. It is often trained medical doctors that perform it after the patients have explicitly asked them to do so.

However, euthanasia is causing controversy for centuries now, with the debating resurfacing in the 1930s and then again in 1970s and 1980s. Nowadays, euthanasia remains illegal in most countries but it seems that many pivotal changes are happening during the last century.

Types of euthanasia

Before you even start considering euthanasia, it is useful to learn more about it. Specifically, when discussing this topic it is important to know that there are many different types. Not all of them are legal or ethical, but knowing the differences between them can be very useful for you in order to make informed decisions.

Assisted Suicide

First off, the involvement of a doctor during the process can vary greatly depending on local or national laws. It is perhaps useful to make here the first distinction between euthanasia and assisted suicide. With assisted suicide, also called physician-assisted suicide (PAS), the doctor helps their patient to commit suicide. This usually occurs for patients that are in extreme suffering and/or are facing an incurable disease.

Moreover, this practice often takes the form of a drug prescription that can be lethal in larger doses. When talking about euthanasia generally, the doctor tends to have a more active role since they usually administer the lethal substance. In many cases this takes place with an injection and the goal is to make death as painless and fast as possible.

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Photo by Tolga Ulkan

Voluntary & Nonvoluntary

The next major distinction we need to mention is voluntary, nonvoluntary and involuntary euthanasia. Voluntary refers to when the patient directly asks for help to end their life. The most significant element here is the ability of the person seeking euthanasia to give informed consent. It is exactly this element that is missing from the nonvoluntary form. Well, sort of.

During nonvoluntary euthanasia the patient is completely incapacitated – often in coma and life support. As a result, they cannot make the decision to ask for this themselves. It is then the decision of close family members to make the call.

Some have argued that by providing explicit end-of-life-related instructions to a family member, you give – in a way – consent for this too, even if you are in a coma. However, it often still is up to your family to make that decision.


Finally, there is one more type of euthanasia in regards to consent: involuntary. This refers to a conscious patient receiving PSA despite a complete lack of consent for it. It is virtually everywhere considered murder. Involuntary euthanasia was a legal practice only in Nazi Germany.

Active & Passive

There are more types of euthanasia such as active and passive. When people think of this process they tend to picture a doctor providing certain substances to a patient. These are instances of active euthanasia. In other words, a doctor providing a lethal medicine or substance refers to the active type.

Passive euthanasia usually refers to withholding essential treatment or support so that the patient dies. For instance, disconnecting someone from their respiratory machine or similar life support devices falls under the passive type. 

However, the line between passive and active practices can often be blurry. An example of that is when doctors prescribe painkillers that if the patient uses in large doses become toxic for them and lead to death. Finally, it is worth mentioning that to most people, active euthanasia is more controversial than passive.

Final Thoughts

All the different types of euthanasia we discuss here are just a general overview. They are also just a small part of a much larger ongoing debate regarding this topic. You can read more on this euthanasia debate, as well as the criteria for receiving it around the world.

If euthanasia seems something that could interest you, you may be happy to hear that you can fill out Myend’s Euthanasia Statement. Although this document isn’t legally binding, it lets you share your intentions with your loved ones. Curious to learn more about the end-of-life planning services of the future? Sign up today for free!

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Myend is not a law firm, it does not engage in the practice of law, and it does not render any official legal advice. Therefore, you are hereby advised to seek your own legal counsel regarding any legal issues. Myend’s articles are meant to be taken as suggestions and therefore Myend carries no responsibility for the user’s actions.