Difference between Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

By: | Updated: Dec-12, 2017

In the medical field, the terms “euthanasia” and “assisted suicide” are often used interchangeably. However, there are a number of differences between the two.

Summary Table

EuthanasiaAssisted Suicide
The act of deliberately ending one’s life to relieve persistent pain or sufferingThe act of intentionally aiding or encouraging a person to commit suicide
The decision to commit suicide is made by either the patient or a third partyThe decision to commit suicide is made by the patient
A third party is the primary agent in committing suicideThe patient is the primary agent in committing suicide
Involves actions that are typically more complex in natureInvolves actions that are typically simpler in nature

Definitions

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Euthanasia, also called “mercy killing,” is the act of deliberately ending one’s life to relieve chronic and persistent pain or suffering. It is categorized into four different types: voluntary, involuntary, passive, and active euthanasia.

Assisted suicide, on the other hand, is the practice of deliberately aiding or encouraging a person to commit suicide. Sometimes called physician-assisted suicide, assisted suicide involves providing a person with the knowledge or means to end his/her life.

Euthanasia vs Assisted Suicide

Although they both fall under end-of-life care in many countries, there is still a huge difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Practice

Euthanasia is the act of deliberately ending one’s life to relieve persistent pain or suffering, while assisted suicide is the practice of intentionally aiding or encouraging a person to commit suicide.

Decision-Making

Euthanasia exists as two major types: voluntary and non-voluntary euthanasia. To be classified as “voluntary euthanasia,” a person of sound mind should make a conscious decision to terminate his/her life. Non-voluntary euthanasia, by contrast, is performed when the main person involved is unable to provide consent due to long-term medical conditions such as a coma or total paralysis. In this type of euthanasia, another person makes a decision on behalf of the primary person.

On the other hand, in assisted suicide, the decision to terminate life always lies in the hands of the patient. The person deliberately asks for assistance from a relative, a friend, or a healthcare provider to end his/her life.

Degree of Involvement

The main difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide is the degree of participation by physicians and relatives. To be considered assisted suicide, the patient is required to self-administer medication in lethal amounts or conduct any action that will terminate his/her own life. Although the physician “assisted” the suicide by prescribing the drugs, the patient is the primary agent in committing suicide.

Meanwhile, in euthanasia, the physician is mainly responsible for ending the life of a patient. In cases like this, physicians or healthcare providers either administer life-threatening drugs or withdraw treatment necessary for life support.

Complexity

Lastly, between the two, euthanasia is more complex in nature. Assisted suicide can be as simple as buying lethal drugs for a person who expresses the need to commit suicide. Euthanasia, however, typically involves more complicated actions that are usually conducted by physicians or healthcare professionals.

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