What Are the Different Types of Euthanasia?

The Netherlands legalized both active and passive euthanasia at the beginning of the 21st century.
Passive euthanasia occurs when a doctor agrees to withdraw medical treatment when it becomes apparent that the patient will not recover from a terminal illness.
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  • Written By: H. Terry
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2014
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Euthanasia can be broadly defined as the ending of a patient's life at his or her request or out of feelings of mercy. The types are classified according to two main considerations: the degree of consent on the part of the patient and the way in which the procedure is carried out. Euthanasia can be voluntary, non-voluntary or involuntary, and it can be an active or passive procedure. Many legal systems in the world treat all forms as criminal homicide. There are, however, some places where the legality depends on its type.

When euthanasia occurs at the explicit request of a patient, it is referred to as voluntary euthanasia. A few governments have rendered this form legal or, if not completely legal, it has been decriminalized. In some countries, voluntary euthanasia is classified as homicide, but if a doctor can satisfy certain legal requirements, it is not considered criminal homicide, and he or she will not be prosecuted. In other places, physician-assisted suicide is not classified as euthanasia, and doctors are not prosecuted if the procedure is carried out as stipulated.

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Non-voluntary euthanasia is when a person is unable to give his or her consent to the procedure, such as when he or she is unconscious, comatose or legally incompetent. It is also referred to as non-voluntary when a person has previously expressed his or her wish to die under specific circumstances but cannot at that moment speak for himself or herself. Children generally are perceived as legally incompetent — for example, children cannot sign legal contracts — and this logic applies in the case of euthanasia as well. Child euthanasia is internationally held to be illegal in almost all cases, although some places might specify particular circumstances in which it is permitted.

Non-voluntary euthanasia is sometimes erroneously confused with involuntary euthanasia, which is distinct. The term non-voluntary signifies that the act is carried out without the patient’s consent, and involuntary means that it is done against the patient’s expressed will. "Slippery slope" arguments are often made against all forms on the supposition that legalizing one form of it might someday lead to cases of involuntary euthanasia.

In terms of procedural distinctions, there are two types: active and passive. Active euthanasia implies actions being taken to end another’s life, such as a lethal substance being administered. Passive euthanasia occurs when life-saving actions or treatments are willingly withheld. In many parts of the United States and other countries, it is legally acceptable for a doctor to acquiesce to a patient’s request to cease the use of life-sustaining treatments.

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irontoenail
Post 4

@pleonasm - The thing is, it's not really simple at all when it comes to people, because there are so many more choices in treatment. Often someone who wants to choose euthanasia is choosing this over a continued existence that is made possible by advanced medicine.

Or you might have a patient who has some form of dementia and doesn't really have the ability to choose whether or not to end their lives.

So who gets to choose? Should it be family? Doctors? The government? It's not a simple thing at all. And that's all got to fit in as well as possible with euthanasia ethics, which are far from clear.

pleonasm
Post 3

@Mor - In a way, it's almost easier when it comes to people, because most of the time the person in question is basically already dead and has no consciousness of what is going on. Or they are able to consent and make their own choice.

But, on the other hand, there are very few places that euthanasia is legal at the moment, so often it doesn't end up being voluntary active euthanasia. And passive euthanasia isn't exactly pleasant.

Mor
Post 2

I'm so torn over this when it comes to pets. On the one hand, I wouldn't want my animals to suffer at all and I have had dogs put down when they had a fatal illness and were in a lot of pain.

But, on the other hand, life is so precious and unique. I don't really think there is an afterlife. And animals can't choose to die because they don't have any conception of that, particularly in the context of a vet's office.

Maybe, if my dogs had the choice, they'd rather live with the pain and it's pure selfishness to claim the euthanasia cures their suffering. It's really to stop us from witnessing their suffering.

It's a very thorny problem and I don't think there is an easy answer. It's not the kind of thing that you can take lightly.

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