"Euthanasia" has been a common word
in the right-to-die debate.
But it has been used so many different ways
that it is probably time to replace it with new terms,
which we can define and describe without baggage from the past.
In part because it has such a long history,
"euthanasia" has spawned a whole clutch of derivative terms:
"passive euthanasia", "active euthanasia", "direct euthanasia",
"indirect euthanasia", "non-active euthanasia", "voluntary euthanasia",
euthanasia", "non-voluntary euthanasia",
"voluntary active euthanasia", "involuntary
"non-voluntary active euthanasia", "slow euthanasia", etc.
When we attempt to define such expressions,
we must make subtle distinctions to ward off common misunderstandings.
Is it worth the effort?
Can we really clarify what we mean
when we continue to use a word that is inherently ambiguous?
Perhaps "euthanasia" should be placed alongside
"Euthanasia" was once a useful expression meaning good death.
But it has come to be so
with such things as lethal
injection and Nazi atrocities
that we can no longer use the word "euthanasia"
without each time denying the
Likewise "communism" was originally coined
Marx to mean the common good.
But history so distorted this common good into totalitarianism
that no one today would even dream
of promoting love within the family by calling it "communism".
When parents make sacrifices in order to provide for their children,
they do not think that they are being "communist".
"Euthanasia" has become such a code-word
opposed to the
right-to-die that they can create
an "anti-euthanasia task force" without blinking
They know they will be understood as opposing something terrible,
even if those horrors are not defined or described.
COULD "GENTLE DEATH" REPLACE
We in the
right-to-die movement favor gentle
1. Gentle death does no harm
to the patient.
Gentle death provides a major
benefit to the patient
because it eliminates unbearable suffering.
Gentle death ends unwanted pain.
And gentle death is achieved by methods that are painless.
2. Gentle death is freely
chosen by the patient, based on medical facts.
When weighed against all the other alternatives,
death at this time is more
reasonable than death at some later time.
3. Gentle death is planned well in advance—when
The ideal death is organized over a period of months, perhaps even
Gentle death is not capricious or rushed.
4. Gentle death is admirable and commendable in retrospect.
When family and friends look back on a gentle death,
they say that it was a good
good as possible under the circumstances.
They have no regrets about how this death was achieved.
They can lament the fact that their dear friend or relative is dead,
but they do not lament the
manner of the dying.
In the past, death was seldom gentle.
Our ancestors died from cold or being eaten by animals.
They suffered extremely just before they died of disease or violence.
Rough death was much
more common than gentle death.
But even recently, people spoke of the ideal as "dying in one's
Nowadays, when we die in hospitals, we can all "die
in our sleep"
because we can choose to have sedatives that render us unconscious
if being awake means that we will suffer.
"Gentle death" would be contrasted with a violent or
And who could oppose a gentle death?
We are not surprised to hear or read such sentiments as the following:
"We are unalterably opposed to all forms of euthanasia."
Various medical associations have made similar statements.
And they sometimes do not define the term,
suggesting that everyone already knows what "euthanasia" means.
But who would issue
a statement like the following?
"This Medical Association strongly opposes all forms of gentle death."
"Any physician who cooperates in a gentle death
will be expelled from
and criminal charges will be recommended when appropriate."
If we replace "euthanasia" with "gentle death",
then those who challenge the 'right-to-die'
will never name their organizations "the anti-gentle-death
They will not be able to launch media campaigns
denouncing the horrors of "gentle death".
The opposition will complain that we have
re-baptized an old evil,
but the people in the middle will think twice
before they easily and automatically turn against gentle death.
Created March 16,
2007; revised 3-22-2007; 4-4-2007; 1-13-2008;
2-12-2012; 2-22-2012; 3-29-2012; 7-18-2012; 9-12-2012; 5-4-2013
This critique of the use of the word "euthanasia"
Chapter 16 of How
to Die: Safeguards for Life-Ending Decisions,
entitled Could "Gentle
Death" Replace "Euthanasia"?
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