Euthanasia is the act of deliberately ending a person's life to relieve suffering.

For example,adoctor who gives a patient with terminal Predictive genetic test for cancer risk genes an overdose of muscle relaxants to end their life would be considered to have carried out euthanasia.

Assisted suicide is the act of deliberately assisting or encouraging another person to kill themselves.

If a relative of a person with a terminal illness wereto obtain powerful sedatives, knowing that the person intended to take an overdose of sedatives to kill themselves, theymay be considered tobe assisting suicide.

Legal position

Both active euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal under English law.

Depending on the circumstances, euthanasia is regarded as either manslaughter or murder and is punishable bylaw, with a maximum penalty of up to life imprisonment.

Assisted suicide is illegal under the terms of the Suicide Act (1961) and is punishable by up to 14 years' imprisonment. Attempting tokill yourselfis not a criminal actin itself.

Types of euthanasia

Euthanasia can be classified in different ways, including:

  • active euthanasia where a person deliberately intervenes to end someones life for example, byinjecting them with a large dose of sedatives
  • passive euthanasia where a person causes death bywithholding or withdrawing treatment that is necessary to maintain life, such as withholding antibiotics from someone with pneumonia

Euthanasia can also be classified as:

  • voluntary euthanasia where a person makes a conscious decision to die and asks for help to do this
  • non-voluntary euthanasia where a person is unable to give their consent (for example, because they are in a coma or are severely brain damaged)and another person takes the decision on their behalf, often because the ill person previously expressed a wish for their life to be ended in suchcircumstances
  • involuntary euthanasia where a person is killed against their expressed wishes

Depending on the circumstances, voluntary and non-voluntary euthanasia could be regarded as either voluntary manslaughter (where someone kills another person, but circumstances can partly justify their actions) or murder.

Involuntary euthanasia is almost always regarded as murder.

There are arguments used by both supporters and opponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide. This means that the healthcare professionals treating you cannot perform certain procedures or treatments against your wishes.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 24 Nov 2016