Euthanasia Terms and Definitions



The word “EUTHANASIA” comes from two Greek words, “eu” (good or easy) and “thanatos” (death) – or good death.Traditionally, euthanasia has meant an easy, painless death. Now the term is used to mean “mercy killing,” “physician assisted suicide,” “assisted suicide,” “mercy killing,” “involuntary euthanasia,” “imposed death” or other names.

Supporters of euthanasia argue that it is actually helping an individual who is suffering to “die with dignity.” It is often considered by such people to be the “merciful thing to do.”

We have also noted that proponents of euthanasia use hospice care and palliative care as means to prematurely end the lives of the ill and the dying.

It is our observation that those who espouse any form of euthanasia actually favor an imposed death – not a good death. 

Because we are confronting a complex question with many facets, we provide here a comprehensive list of words and their definitions:

  • Active – direct or positive euthanasia – direct killing of the patient by administering lethal drugs or other direct means of ending life, or by withholding or withdrawing ordinary means of sustaining life such as food and water, protection from exposure and so on.
  • Advance Directives for Health Care— legal documents by which individuals express their wishes about medical treatment in case they are ever unable to make health care decisions for themselves. Advance directives can be used to license euthanasia.
  • Aid-in-dying— A euphemism (soft, nice-sounding term used in place of an unpleasant sounding term) for euthanasia and PAS.
  • “An act” – may involve a lethal injection or some other form of poisoning; smothering; shooting; etc.
  • “An omission“— withholding or withdrawal (w/w) of medical treatment and/or care that is necessary and ordinary (available, beneficial, and not overly burdensome for the patient).
  • Assisted Suicide – Giving help to someone who wants to take his own life including family-assisted suicide when a family member helps a loved one kill himself.  
  • “By intention” — intention is important. It is impossible to know others’ intentions unless they tell us. However, when YOU make a medical decision, for yourself or another, it is important to examine your intention.​

Euthanasia, as practiced today, is not just “in order to eliminate suffering.” Patients are sometimes made to die because their lives are viewed by others including physicians, health care providers or family members as “not worthy of living” or in order to save money or to relieve others of the burden of caring for them.  

  • Death with Dignity – a phrase that is used by promoters of euthanasia to suggest that there is something compassionate about helping a person die or prematurely taking a life in a hospital, hospice or other health care facility.   
  • Euthanasia - An act or an omission that, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering.
  • Extraordinary means – those treatments, medicines and operations which are gravely burdensome to the patient, and which cannot be obtained or used without excessive expense, pain or other inconvenience or which, if used, would not offer a reasonable hope of benefit to the patient. 

CAUTION: Courts have in some cases defined extraordinary means to include food and water (nutrition and hydration) and have ordered the removing of this sustenance from patients for the purpose of killing the patient.

This is not the proper definition of extraordinary means, but is a definition of direct killing (euthanasia).

  • Imposed Death— an umbrella term covering all acts of killing human beings either to end their suffering or to relieve others of the inconvenience/burden/cost of caring for them. 
  • Involuntary Euthanasia —the patient is killed against his/her wishes or without his/her consent; commonly known as “mercy killing,” as in the case of children or incompetent adults.
  • “Mercy-killing” – is just another name for euthanasia. “Mercy” is the presumed motive. “Killing” is the act.
  • Non-voluntary— the patient is incapable of giving consent. 
  • “Of itself“—The Vatican's Declaration on Euthanasia states "By euthanasia is understood an action or an omission which of itself or by intention causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated." Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia, May 5, 1980.
  • Ordinary means – food, drink, rest, medicines, treatments and operations which offer a reasonable hope of benefit for the patient and which can be obtained and used without excessive expense, pain or other inconvenience.
  • Passive – indirect or negative euthanasia – these are ambiguous terms meaning that a decision can be made by the patient, the parent or guardian and/or the physician to withhold or withdraw extraordinary means of sustaining or prolonging life, such as deciding against high-risk surgery for a patient dying of cancer or kidney failure.

When the intent is not to cause death but rather to reject extraordinary treatment, the result is the acceptance of death or continued life, whichever occurs, but it is not true euthanasia. 

WARNING!  Passive euthanasia is sometimes defined by others as the withholding of lifesaving treatment with the intention and result of causing the patient’s death. This is the equivalent to active, direct euthanasia.

  • Suicide – the act and intent of a person to cause death to himself by direct killing (such as by lethal drug) or by withholding or withdrawing ordinary means (self-starvation).
  • Voluntary—the patient requests or gives consent. In practice, truly voluntary euthanasia requests may be very rare, since the patient seldom gives informed consent because the alleged consent is influenced by depression, improperly treated pain or other factors that are not controlled but could be controlled.  With proper care and counseling there should never be a request for death to be imposed.