The word euthanasia comes straight out of the Greek meaning good death – and for 18th-century writers in England that was what euthanasia meant, a “good” death, a welcome way to depart quietly from life. The commonly understood meaning of euthanasia today is more than the old dictionary definition of dying well, it refers, for example, to the situation when a doctor induces death, with a lethal injection, of a patient who is suffering unrelievably and who has persistently requested the doctor to do so.
The Netherlands is the only country in the world where euthanasia is openly practiced. It is not specifically allowed by law, but Dutch law accepts a standard defense from doctors who have adhered to official guidelines. These guidelines hinge on the voluntariness of the request and the unrelievable-ness of the suffering. Under Dutch law euthanasia is the termination of life by a doctor at the express wish of a patient. The request to the doctor must be voluntary, explicit and carefully considered and it must have been made repeatedly. The patient’s suffering must be unbearable and without any prospect of improvement. Pain relief administered by a Dutch doctor may shorten a patient’s life. As is the case in other countries, this is seen as a normal medical decision in terminal care and not as euthanasia. Euthanasia is a matter of continuing controversy, an issue on which positions range widely and include enthusiastic advocacy, guarded acceptance, outright rejection, and vehement condemnation, equating euthanasia with murder.