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EDITIONS
Euthanasia Thursday, 1 July, 1999, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
A euthanasia glossary
Active euthanasia occurs when a doctor administers medication knowing it will shorten a patient's life.

Bland ruling refers to the case of Anthony Bland. A victim of the Hillsborough stadium tragedy, he was left in a persistent vegetative state - and hence was not legally dead. His parents believed their son would not want to be kept alive in such a condition. They petitioned the court to sanction the withdrawal of hydration and artificial nutrition, which it did.

Death is more complicated than one would first think. UK law holds that a person who suffers brain-stem death is dead, but some campaigners argue such a definition is defective. For example, they argue, there is no agreed way to define when the brain is dead. And even if there were, why should the death of the brain count as death of the person if other organs - such as the heart - are still functioning?

Double effect is when patients are given massive doses of painkillers - as is clinically necessary, the doctor would argue - but these doses themselves hasten death.

Euthanasia has many definitions. The Pro-Life Alliance defines it as: "Any action or omission intended to end the life of a patient on the grounds that his or her life is not worth living." The Voluntary Euthanasia Society looks to the word's Greek origins - "'eu' and 'thanatos', which together mean 'a good death'" - and say a modern definition is: "A good death brought about by a doctor providing drugs or an injection to bring a peaceful end to the dying process." Three classes of euthanasia can be identified - passive euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide and active euthanasia - although not all groups would acknowledge them as valid terms.

Living wills allow people to specify what treatment they want if they become mentally incompetent - if they develop dementia, for instance. The government is drawing up plans to give them legal force.

Palliative care is a fast-growing specialty in medicine. It involves the care of patients who are terminally ill. The World Health Organisation says: "The active, total care of patients whose disease is not responsive to curative treatment, control of pain, of other symptoms, and of psychological, social and spiritual problems, is paramount."

Passive euthanasia is an alternative name for withdrawal of treatment - the doctor withholds life-sustaining treatment.

Physician-assisted suicide is when a patient asks their doctor to provide them with drugs that will shorten or end life.

Withdrawal of treatment is a hugely controversial area. Also known as passive euthanasia, it is where the doctor withholds life-sustaining treatment. Many doctors would argue there reaches a point in the care of a patient where treatment is no longer of any help. Since the 1989 Bland ruling, basic nutrition and hydration count as treatment. Pro-life groups see this as an offence against human rights.

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