Euthanasia is the practice of mercifully ending a person's life, in order to release the individual from an incurable disease, intolerable suffering, or undignified death (Encarta). The word "euthanasia" derives from Greek-- Eu, "good", and Thanatos, "death"-- and originally referred to intentional mercy killing (Encarta). Physicians may practice two forms of euthanasia: active and passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia means painlessly putting someone to death for merciful reasons by a doctor, who order a lethal dose of medication to the patient. Whereas, passive euthanasia involves not doing something to prevent death, for instance when doctors refrain from the use of an artificial respirator to keep a patient alive who is fatally ill. (Encarta).
Euthanasia differs from assisted suicide, in which a patient voluntarily brings about his or her own death with the assistance of another person, typically a physician. In this case, the act is a suicide (intentional self-inflicted death), because the patient actually causes his or her own death.
In voluntary euthanasia, a person asks to die (by either active or passive euthanasia). Non-voluntary euthanasia refers to ending the life of a person who is not mentally competent to make an informed request to die, such as a comatose patient. .
Euthanasia has been accepted by various societies trough history. In the ancient Greek and Rome it was acceptable to help others die or put them to death in some situations. Voluntary euthanasia was an approved custom for elderly who were suffering unknown or untreatable illnesses that was assumed lethal. Moreover, newborns with severe birth effects were put to death in the ancient Greek city of Sparta. However, as Christianity developed and grew powerful, euthanasia became morally and ethically abhorrent and was viewed as a violation of God's gift of life. (Beauchamp, pp 102) .
Following the Christian tradition, laws generally treated the act of helping someone in dying as a form of punishable homicide (unlawful killing).