Suicide is defined as “the intentional taking of one’s own life”. It literally means “self-killing”. It originates from the Latin sui- (of the self) and -cidium (killing or slaughter).
It is suicide when a person intentionally ends their own life without help.
Example: A person acquires a lethal dose of drugs and swallows it.
Assisted suicide literally means “self-killing with assistance” – A person intentionally ends their own life with someone else’s help.
The person takes the final action that ends their life after receiving help to access the means to end their life.
Example: A person receives a lethal dose of drugs from someone else and then swallows it.
Euthanasia is the intentional killing of a person whose life is considered not worth living. The person is regarded by themselves or others as ‘better off dead’.
Euthanasia comes from the Greek “eu” meaning “goodly or well” and “thanatos” meaning “death.” So, the literal meaning of euthanasia is “good death.” However, complications are possible including fits, uncontrollable vomiting, regaining consciousness and waking up not dead. “Good” is a very subjective term and a debatable moral claim.
It is euthanasia, and not assisted suicide, when the person who dies does NOT take the final action that ends their life.
Example: A person receives a lethal injection from another person.
What Euthanasia is NOT
Euthanasia should not be confused with:
- Death as a result of negligence, error or unintended side-effects
Euthanasia is a deliberate action with the intention of causing the person’s death.
There is a difference between foreseeing the possibility of death as a side-effect and deliberately causing it. For example, a heart surgeon may be aware of the possibility of death during open heart surgery. If the patient dies during such surgery the surgeon would not be guilty of killing unless he or she has intentionally caused the patient to die.
- Refusing or removing life support
- Requesting or choosing to not resuscitate or give CPR
- Stopping medical treatment
In the above situations the person is allowed to die a natural death, from their underlying medical condition, like they would have through the ages. Whether it is ethical in a particular situation to refuse life support, resuscitation or treatment is a different matter, but it is not euthanasia.
‘Assisted dying’ is one of many euphemisms for assisted suicide and euthanasia. Other euphemisms include ‘aid in dying’, ‘assistance in dying’, ‘death with dignity’, ‘dying with dignity’, ‘dignity in dying’, ‘end of life option’, ‘end of life choice’, ‘mercy killing’, ‘compassionate death’ and ‘right to die’.