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[Gr. eus, good, + thanatos, death]

1. An easy, quiet, and painless death.
2. The deliberate ending of the life of people (or in veterinary practice, animals) with incurable or terminal illnesses or unbearable suffering. The ethical ramifications are actively debated and unresolved: Should patients have the right to choose death? When is death imminent, or suffering intolerable? Does participation by a health care provider, e.g., a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist, violate personal, professional, religious, or social mores?
SEE: advance directive; SEE: death, assisted; SEE: suicide, assisted; SEE: death; SEE: death with dignity; SEE: do not attempt resuscitation; SEE: dying; SEE: living will

Active euthanasia (sometimes called “mercy killing”) occurs when a person, usually a physician or nurse, performs an act, e.g., administering a lethal injection, to end a patient’s life. Additional descriptors for euthanasia include “voluntary,” i.e., the patient requests euthanasia, “involuntary,” i.e., the patient specifically refuses euthanasia, and “nonvoluntary,” i.e., the patient is not able to inform others of his wishes concerning euthanasia. Currently euthanasia is illegal in most countries except for the Netherlands, which allows limited, voluntary euthanasia. The general terms “assisted death” and “aid in dying” apply to actions intended to hasten death and include both assisted suicide (AS) and active euthanasia. “Withdrawing or withholding life-sustaining therapy” (WWLST) is the discontinuance or foregoing of therapies that may keep someone alive, e.g., cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), mechanical ventilation, artificially provided nutrition and hydration, and antibiotics or other drug therapies. Most patients who die in acute care settings, particularly in intensive care units, do so after the withholding or withdrawing of CPR or other life-prolonging therapies. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld the right of patients to refuse such therapies via living wills or advanced medical directives. Euthanasia, however, is illegal and may be treated by the courts as an act of murder.

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