Legal Dictionary

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Euthanasia

Euthanasia is bringing about the death of a person suffering from an incurable disease to diminish their suffering. Although euthanasia is usually an act of mercy; in some states, it is considered a crime and is charged as second-degree murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. Euthanasia has various forms:

  • Active euthanasia usually involves a physician or other facilitator who provides the method and means of death and puts the process in motion (e.g., Dr. Kevorkian injected a deadly mix of drugs into terminally ill individuals at either their own request or the request of the family). If the victim consents to the process, it would be considered “voluntary euthanasia.”
  • Involuntary euthanasia is killing a person who is competent and has not consented to being killed (e.g., when a husband kills his wife who is dying of terminal cancer ostensibly because he cannot stand to have her suffer and believes she will be better off dead).
  • Passive euthanasia is allowing a terminally ill person to die, for example, by removing a feeding tube or respirator.

Euthanasia is also referred to as “Assisted Suicide” and “Mercy Killing.” California has a law which specifically prohibits assisted suicide. California Penal Code section 401 entitled Advising or Encouraging Suicide makes it felony for any person who deliberately aids, advises, or encourages another person to commit suicide. The legal definition of “aids” is providing what is useful or necessary in achieving an end, such as providing a weapon to a person knowing that person will commit or attempt suicide.

The legal definition of “advising or encouraging” means giving verbal help or assistance or provides the means, knowing that it will be used to commit suicide. In 1992, California voters defeated a ballot (Prop 161) which would have legalized euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. Euthanasia is prohibited in California under the general homicide laws.