Euthanasia (Greek, "pleasant death") means accelerating death of people on their request. This can either mean 1) active termination or 2) help in dying by either supporting suicide, or not giving appropriate help in case of a suicide. Either or all of this practices are illegal in most countries.
Proponents of euthanasia state that people should be allowed to decide that they do not want to live any more, and that terminally ill patients are respected more by having their suffering end than by being kept alive against their will. Philosopher Peter Singer has been one of the most outspoken proponents of euthanasia.
Arguments from opponents of euthanasia can be divided in two main categories. The first are ethical objections, basically saying that a person should not be free to end his or her own life. This is mainly, but not only, brought forward by religious people who regard one's life as a present from God that cannot be thrown away at will.
The second type argument against euthanasia is that while the basic idea might be good, it might also open the door for less desirable practices. People might be pushed to ask for euthanasia by family or doctors although they do not really want so themselves, or might even be killed under the guise of euthanasia without any request from the patient. This is extra problematic when patients are unable to make any statements themselves (patients that are severely mentally ill or in a persistent coma), which are among the people most likely to be under consideration for euthanasia, were it allowed.
It should be noted that in about a quarter even of the medically supervised euthanasias there are 'complications', like respiratory paralysis that make the death anything but pleasant.
In The Netherlands the Upper House passed a bill for the 'review of cases of termination of life on request and assistance with suicide' earlier approved by the Lower House of Parliament on 28 November 2000. The bill was passed by 46 votes to 28 and is expected to take effect in the autumn of 2001 or at the very latest in January 2002. According to the new legislation euthanasia and assistance with suicide will continue to be criminal offences. However, physicians who comply with all conditions and criteria of due care will not be prosecuted. They must practice due care as set forth in a separate law, the Termination of life on request and assisted suicide (Review) Act. They must also report the cause of death to the municipal coroner in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Burial and Cremation Act. Regional review committees will continue to assess whether a case of termination of life on request for assisted suicide complies with the due care criteria. Depending on their findings, a case will either be closed or brought to the attention of the Public Prosecutor. Finally, the legislation offers an explicit recognition of the validity of a written declaration of will of the patient regarding euthanasia.
From the time that Euthanasia first came to be widely practiced in the Netherlands, it was formally subject to review by boards of doctors in each hospital. The law as created basically made official what had already become unofficial law by judgments in the courts.
Euthanasia was legalised in Australia's Northern Territory, by the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995. This law was soon however made ineffective by the an amendment by the Commonwealth government to the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978. (The powers of the Northern Territory legislature, unlike those of the State legislatures, are not guaranteed by the Australian Constitution.) Three people had already been legally euthanasied, however, before the Commonwealth government made this amendment.
Legislation to legalize euthanasia is now (late 2001) being discussed in the Belgian parliament.
In the United States, the most common form of Euthanasia is withholding tube-feeding to elderly and incapacitated patients. This is generally considered an abuse when the patient might recover. These patients die protracted deaths by dehydration.
In the United States, many opponents believe that Euthanasia would be used to reduce the cost of care by health maintenance organizations. In 1999, the largest contributors to U.S. right-to-die organizations were health maintenance organizations.
In Nazi Germany the term Euthanisia was a code word for systematic killing of deformed children and mentally ill adults. This has stained the word in German speaking countries. Euthanisia is thus mostly paraphrased as "Sterbehilfe" (help to die) in German speaking countries.