Legal Dictionary

involuntary euthanasia

Definition of involuntary euthanasia

Further reading

Involuntary euthanasia (sometimes known as mercy killing) is euthanasia conducted without the explicit consent of the individual concerned. In the modern world, the term is usually applied to medical situations, such as the termination of newborns born with severe spina bifida in the Netherlands (the Groningen Protocol). The majority of involuntary euthanasia today takes place in the form of terminal sedation or continuous deep sedation of terminally ill patients, with up to a third of doctors reporting that they have made decisions that hasten the death of patients.

Substituted judgement

The decision can be made based on what the incapacitated individual would have wanted, or it could be made on substituted judgment of what the decision maker would want were he or she in the incapacitated person's place, or finally, the decision could be made by assessing objectively whether euthanasia is the most beneficial course of treatment.[3]

Legal status

Involuntary euthanasia is illegal in all countries in the world, and is only practised in the Netherlands (see Groningen Protocol) under an agreement between physicians and district attorneys that was ratified by the Dutch National Association of Pediatricians.[4]

Involuntary euthanasia is sometimes used as a reason for not changing laws relating to other forms of euthanasia.[5][6]

Slippery slope debate

Involuntary euthanasia is often cited as the end-point in the slippery slope argument against legalising any form of euthanasia, although recent studies show that the available evidence suggests that the legalisation of physician-assisted suicide might actually decrease the prevalence of involuntary euthanasia.[7]

Euthanasia opponent Ian Dowbiggin linked the Nazi atrocities to the resistance in the West to involuntary euthanasia. He believes that the revulsion inspired by the Nazis led to some of the early advocates of euthanasia in all its forms in the U.S. and U.K. removing involuntary euthanasia from their proposed platforms.[8][9]


  1. Verhagen, AA.; Sol, JJ.; Brouwer, OF.; Sauer, PJ. (Jan 2005). "[Deliberate termination of life in newborns in The Netherlands; review of all 22 reported cases between 1997 and 2004]". Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd 149 (4): 183-8. PMID 15702738.
  2. Seale, C. (Oct 2009). "Continuous Deep Sedation in Medical Practice: A Descriptive Study.". J Pain Symptom Manage. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2009.06.007. PMID 19854611.
  3. Biggs, Hazel. Euthanasia: Death with Dignity and the Law. Hart Publishing. ISBN 1-84113-091-5.
  4. "Ending the Life of a Newborn: The Groningen Protocol,: Introduction". Retrieved 2009-11-03.
  5. Harris, NM. (Oct 2001). "The euthanasia debate.". J R Army Med Corps 147 (3): 367-70. PMID 11766225. "It is the occurrence of involuntary euthanasia which forms one of the main arguments against legalisation.".
  6. Chapple, A.; Ziebland, S.; McPherson, A.; Herxheimer, A. (Dec 2006). "What people close to death say about euthanasia and assisted suicide: a qualitative study.". J Med Ethics 32 (12): 706-10. doi:10.1136/jme.2006.015883. PMID 17145910.
  7. Ryan, CJ. (Oct 1998). "Pulling up the runaway: the effect of new evidence on euthanasia's slippery slope.". J Med Ethics 24 (5): 341-4. PMID 9800591.
  8. Dowbiggin, Ian Robert (2002). A merciful end: the euthanasia movement in modern America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515443-6.
  9. Prior to and during World War II, Nazi Germany conducted a eugenics program described as "mercy killing", although in their model perfectly healthy people in no pain were murdered by the Nazi state without any family member's consent, which makes their actions simple murder.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     community service
2.     lex situs
3.     lex causae
4.     lex patriae
5.     lex domicilii
6.     lex loci celebrationis
7.     AORO
8.     Clayton's Case
9.     adjudication order
10.     Miranda warning