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Turning off life support is not euthanasia

Stopping treatment – refusing treatment –turning off life support – refusing life support - having a do-not-resuscitate order.

  • All of these things are medically ethical.

  • All of these things are legal.

  • None of these things are euthanasia.

There is a big difference between allowing a life to end and intentionally ending a life.

All those things listed above can be ways of allowing a medical condition to end a person’s life, or some may say, letting nature take its course. They’re all ethical, legal ways of asserting control over the end of life when a person is dying and they don’t want medical interventions to prolong their life.

Sometimes, medical professionals may advise a course of treatment that will make a dying patient more comfortable but may possibly shorten their life as a side effect. This too is ethical and legal because the treatment is administered with the intent to alleviate pain and suffering – not the intent to kill.

Euthanasia, on the other hand, is the intentional ending of a person’s life. It involves someone giving a person an injection of a lethal drug to end that person’s life. Assisted suicide involves someone giving a person a lethal drug that the person then takes to end their own life. The person doesn’t need to be dying to be eligible for euthanasia or assisted suicide.

The New Zealand Medical Association, the Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine, and the World Medical Association all condemn euthanasia and assisted suicide as being in conflict with basic medical ethics. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in New Zealand and in 94% of jurisdictions around the world.

Sources: World Medical Association, WMA Resolution on Euthanasia; Submission of the New Zealand Medical Association to the Justice Committee (February 2018); ANZSPM, Position Statement: The practice of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide (updated 31 March 2017).

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