Assisted Suicide

Definitions of Euthanasia

By Derek Humphry
19 January 2006

With so much talk about 'euthanasia' these days after the Terri Schiavo affair (March 2005), and the affirming decision of the US Supreme Court (January 2006) in the Oregon physician-assisted suicide case, it seems time -- in the interests of mutual understanding -- to define the principal words being used. Thus...

ASSISTED SUICIDE: Helping a person to end his or her life by request in order to end suffering. (Rarely prosecuted and only lawful in Switzerland where the reasons must be altruistic.)

PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE: Medical doctor helping patient to die by prescribing a lethal overdose. Patient can chose whether to drink it. (Lawful only in Oregon, Switzerland, Netherlands and Belgium.)

EUTHANASIA: A broad, generic term meaning 'help with a good death.'

VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA: Death by lethal injection by doctor when requested by patient. (Only lawful in Belgium and the Netherlands for the terminally or hopelessly ill.)

NON-VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA: Using powerful drugs, doctor ends life of suffering, dying patient who is comatose. Illegal, but happens all the time, discreetly, in the interest of compassion.

TERMINAL SEDATION: Upon patient request, doctor puts patient into deep sleep with medications, during which time the patient dies either of the underlying illness or starvation/dehydration. Widely practiced and generally accepted as ethical and lawful.

MERCY KILLING: Taking the life of another person in the belief that this is a compassionate act because the ill person is unable to do so. Unlawful.

SOURCE: These and other definitions involving the 'right-to-die' are contained in the paperback "The Good Euthanasia Guide" by Derek Humphry available at


Derek HumphryFormerly a London Sunday Times reporter, Derek Humphry founded the Hemlock Society USA in 1980 and the Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization in 1993. He is the author of six books on euthanasia, the best-known one being "Final Exit" which has been continuously in print for 12 years. He lives in Oregon.

© Copyright Derek Humphry 2002-3. Extracts no longer than 100 words each may be taken for scholarly or literary purposes. Full publication requires the author's permission. This article first appeared in a shorter form in the World Right-to-Die Newsletter #41, June 2002.

SOME USEFUL WEB SITES (Oregon, USA) (California, USA)
Final Exit Network (USA) (Portland, Oregon, USA) (Ontario, Canada)
EXIT International (Australia) (Switzerland)

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A webpage of the Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization (ERGO),
based in Oregon, USA.