Questions concerning assisted suicide and euthanasia are not new, and they remain controversial. For many people this subject provokes a deep-seated emotional response one way or the other. There is also some confusion around what assisted suicide and euthanasia actually mean, and how they are different from other approaches to end of life care.


what is euthanasia

Euthanasia means directly ending a patient's life at his or her request.

Put more fully, euthanasia is intentionally administering medications or other interventions to cause a patient's death.


WHAT is assisted suicide

Assisted suicide is providing someone with the means to end his or her life.

Put more fully, assisted suicide is providing medications or other interventions to a patient with the understanding that the patient intends to use them to commit suicide.

The main point is that, with both assisted suicide and euthanasia, the clear intent is to end the life of the patient making the request. The immediate and direct cause of death is the lethal medication.


what euthanasia and assisted suicide are not

Withdrawal of medical assistance considered to be futile or burdensome is not euthanasia. This is legal in New Zealand and considered by the medical profession to be responsible and ethical practice consistent with the best ideals of compassionate care. 

Administering pain relief to relieve suffering, even where there is an increased risk that the treatment may result in an earlier death, is not euthanasia. The key point to note is that medication is used with the intent of relieving suffering, and not to end the life of the patient.