Euthanasia can be literally translated as a good or true death. This means, setting in motion, events that would ultimately cause death of a person in the purpose of eliminating present or intended pain and suffering. The legal standpoint of euthanasia is not standardized, and there are some areas in the world where it is totally prohibited, whereas other areas where there are forms of euthanasia being accepted as a possible option for a patient and family. There are several classifications of this. Voluntary euthanasia or mercy killing is with the complete consent of the patient; non-voluntary euthanasia is killing a person who cannot give consent, and involuntary euthanasia is conducted against the consent of the patient. These can again be classified as active and passive euthanasia. This is the point of discussion that we have to make in this discussion.
Active euthanasia entails the active injection of a material that will cause cessation of functions that are required to continue the life. For example, injecting a large dose of morphine will cause cessation of respiration and injection of potassium chloride will cause arrhythmias and cardiac arrest. In most countries, this is considered criminal misconduct on the part of the doctor and generally brought to courts.
Passive euthanasia entails the withholding or non-performance of an action that would have saved that person. This can be elaborated by not allowing for the patient to be intubated, given oxygen, pushed in a drug that would resuscitate that person. These options can be opted by the patient or by consensus of the medical team. The patient can write up a living will or appoint a health care proxy asking for a “DNR” or “Do Not Revive” order. This is legally binding. Or else the healthcare team can discuss and get the consent of the legal guardian or the patient as to do nothing during the next emergency. This is accepted in most countries, but in some, the legality is blurry, at best.
What is the difference between Active Euthanasia and Passive Euthanasia?
Both situations deal with the end of life decisions. Both acts can be considered as going against the Hippocratic Oath. Both will cause cessation of life, and for it to be binding in any country or some of the countries, the patient needs to give informed written consent in a time of perfectly functioning consciousness. However, the active euthanasia deals with injection of a drug or narcotic causing dysfunction of the body, whereas in passive euthanasia, nature is let to take its cause all the while, not trying to prevent it. The active euthanasia is doing something, and the passive euthanasia is doing nothing. The active euthanasia is illegal in most countries and legal in a couple of states in the USA and Netherland. The passive variety is accepted in most countries and considered as a patient right in some.
Thus, active euthanasia is doing something to harm the patient, whereas passive euthanasia is not doing anything to save the patient.