Euthanasia is mercy killing. We often euthanize our pets when we judge that continuing their life would cause them great suffering. We euthanize injured wild animals when we ‘put them out of their misery’. Few object to such acts. But is it morally permissible to euthanize humans?
Active Euthanasia: active euthanasia involves a positive act of mercy killing. For example, if a doctor judges that it is in a patient’s interests that they die, and so kills them for that reason this would be a case of active euthanasia. Active euthanasia is currently illegal in this country and many others.
Passive Euthanasia: passive euthanasia involves letting someone die because one has judged that the patient is better off dead. For example, if a doctor removes a respirator or withholds life saving treatment with the intention that the patient die, then we have passive euthanasia (so long as this has been done out of a concern for the patient, and not to free-up bed space etc). Passive euthanasia is practiced in this country. Most of those opposed to active euthanasia, are not opposed to passive euthanasia.
Voluntary Euthanasia: voluntary euthanasia is carried out at the request of the patient. If the patient asks to be killed, then we have a case of voluntary active euthanasia. If the patient asks to be allowed to die, then we have a case of voluntary passive euthanasia. Cases where a patient is killed on the basis of an advanced directive also count as cases of voluntary euthanasia.
Non-voluntary Euthanasia: sometimes it is impossible to get a patient’s consent because the patient has lost their decision-making capacity, or never had such a capacity. In these cases a judgement has to be made on the patient’s behalf. These are cases of non-voluntary euthanasia.
Involuntary Euthanasia: involuntary euthanasia is carried out against the wishes of the patient. Not bothering to find out the wishes of a competent patient prior to killing them...