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euthanasia (yo͞oˌthənāˈzhə), either painlessly putting to death or failing to prevent death from natural causes in cases of terminal illness or irreversible coma. The term comes from the Greek expression for “good death.” Technological advances in medicine have made it possible to prolong life in patients with no hope of recovery, and the term negative euthanasia has arisen to classify the practice of withholding or withdrawing extraordinary means (e.g., intravenous feeding, respirators, and artificial kidney machines) to preserve life. Accordingly, the term positive euthanasia has come to refer to actions that actively cause death. The term passive euthanasia is used when certain common methods of treatment, such as antibiotics, drugs, or surgery, are withheld or a large quantity of needed but ultimately lethal pain medication is supplied. By the end of the 20th cent. passive euthanasia was said to be a common practice among U.S. hospitals and physicians. With regard to euthanasia in animals, there are strict rules and guidelines that ensure ethical euthanasia and disposal.

Much debate has occurred in the United States and other nations among physicians, religious leaders, lawyers, and the general public over the question of what constitutes actively causing death and what constitutes merely allowing death to occur naturally. The physician is faced with deciding whether measures used to keep patients alive are extraordinary in individual situations, e.g., whether a respirator or artificial kidney machine should be withdrawn from a terminally ill patient. The Supreme Court's decision in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health set a precedent for the removal of life-support equipment from terminal cases.

Popular movements have supported the legalization of the living will, a statement written by a mentally alert patient that can be used to express a wish to forgo artificial means to sustain life during terminal illness. In 1977, California became the first to pass a state law to this effect, known as the death-with-dignity statute. The absence of a written living will complicated the case of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who was in a persistent vegetative state from 1990 until 2005, when she died after having her feeding tube removed. In 2000 her husband, who was her legal guardian, won the right to remove it based upon what he stated were her orally expressed wishes, but legal challenges from her parents and Florida governor Jeb Bush and attempted government interventions through Florida and federal legislation delayed the tube's removal for five years. (See Schiavo case.)

Societies advancing the cause of positive euthanasia were founded in 1935 in England and 1938 in the United States. End-of-Life Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) is one controversial group that has pressed for right-to-die legislation on a national level. Positive euthanasia is for the most part illegal in the United States, but physicians may lawfully refuse to prolong life when there is extreme suffering.

In the early 1990s, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a Michigan physician, gained notoriety by assisting a number of people to commit suicide and became the object of a state law (1992) forbidding such activity. Kevorkian, who had been tried and acquitted repeatedly in the assisted deaths of seriously ill people, was convicted of murder in Michigan in 1999 for an assisted suicide that was shown on national television. Meanwhile, in 1997, the Supreme Court upheld state laws banning assisted suicide (in most U.S. states assisting in a suicide is a crime).

In Oregon in 1994, voters approved physician-assisted suicide for some patients who are terminally ill (the patients must administer the drugs); the law went into effect in 1997, following a protracted court challenge. In 2001 the Bush administration sought to undermine the law with a directive issued under the federal Controlled Substances Act, but Oregon sued to prohibit the enforcement of it, and the Supreme Court ruled (2006) that the federal government had exceeded its authority. Similar measures have since been approved, by voters, legislators, or the courts, in Washington state (2008), Montana (2009), Vermont (2013), California (2015), Colorado and the District of Columbia (2016), and New Jersey and Maine (2019).

Since 1937 assisted suicide has not been illegal in Switzerland as long as the person who assists has no personal motive or gain. In 1993, the Netherlands decriminalized, under a set of restricted conditions, voluntary positive euthanasia (essentially, physician-assisted suicide) for the terminally ill, and in 2002 the country legalized physician-assisted suicide if voluntarily requested by seriously ill patients who face ongoing suffering. Belgium (2002), Luxembourg (2008), and some other nations and juridictions also have legalized physician-assisted suicide for certain patients who request it, and Canada's supreme court has overturned (2015) laws against physician-assisted suicide.

See also bioethics.


See P. Singer, Rethinking Life and Death (1994); H. Hendin, Suicide in America (rev. ed. 1995). See also studies by J. Rachels (1986) and R. Wennberg (1989).

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The act or practice of putting to death or allowing the death, in a relatively painless way, of persons or animals with incurable or painful disease.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


the act of killing someone painlessly, esp to relieve suffering from an incurable illness
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Commission of Inquiry on Syria is the coup de grace for the Security Council's failings.
Given their disastrous record in government it beggars belief that Theresa May seems poised to sweep to victory, under our 'first past the post' system, in order to deliver the coup de grace to our economy with a costly divorce from our most important trading partners.
Scotland were pinned back through the booming boot of Dyddgu Hywel, and then came the coup de grace via replacement centre Charlie Murray, who was on the end of some terrific play by blindside Alisha Butchers for Wales' third and final try.
Najaf / NINA / The cleric Moqtada al-Sadr warned from what he described "slaughtering the Jihad on the bench politics and transforming power in Iraq to a military or militia in the event of using jihad and Mujahedeen to achieve electoral and political purposes." He said in his comment on the matter "it should be prevented the use of jihad and the mujahedeen in the political and electoral aspects, otherwise the Jihad will be beheaded on the politics bench and turn the power in Iraq to the military or militia." On how the parliament dealt with issues of corruption, most recently the Defense ministry's file, al-Sadr said, "the only affected is the Iraqi people and will be the coup de grace if people did not wake up from their sleep.
The Scotland Under-21 striker may have earned redemption in the game by delivering the coup de grace to United with the final
According to his statements, this attack is the coup de grace for one of the key sectors boosting exports and liquidity at home and a loss of at least 1,000 million dinars (MD) will surely be recorded under this season.
IT'S a standard cliche of unimaginative horror films that, just when a protagonist in a supporting role thinks he's overcome the peril he was facing and the creepy background music fades away, an unexpected assailant leaps into shot from nowhere and delivers a terminally surprising coup de grace.
However another Davies penalty nosed Hoppers further ahead on 65 minutes before he delivered the coup de grace with that bonus point-denying drop goal.
The coup de grace came during the Japan Series this season, in which Tanaka went 160 pitches during a Game 6 loss, then came back the next day and threw another 15 in relief to close out Rakuten's championship victory," writes Jeff Passan via Real GM.
The humiliation by Liverpool, which followed a 6-0 drubbing by Manchester City last month, appears to have been the final straw for the Spurs chairman Daniel Levy who delivered the coup de grace in person.
Stephens's day job as an event coordinator and office assistant for Diamante Atelier, a rare colored-diamond investment broker, supplied the production's coup de grace: The actors will be sporting jewels lent by the broker--"everything from Cartier antiques to Elizabeth Taylor's one-of-a-kind jewelry from House of Taylor," says Stephens.