Skip to main content

Evolution of Euthanasia by Jessica French: Home


The Slippery Slope: The Evolution of Euthanasia in the United States

Mankind has a history of trying to cheat death through the development of medical advancements keeping man alive long past natural death.  While there are those who want to extend life, there are also individuals who want to hasten their death. Since the conception of the Untied States, every state had laws against suicide and/or physician assisted suicide.  In the last twenty years, the United States went from a complete ban on euthanaia to a national acceptance of passive euthanaisa and four states legalizing active voluntary euthanasia ("Death with Dignity").   As of 2014, Belgium was the first nation to legalize active involuntary euthanasia, which will surely have an impact on the United States as the notion of "dying with dignity" spreads.

The purpose of this research guide is to give law students and practitioners an understanding of the quickly evolving subject of euthanasia.  Throughout the guide, the focus is on the four states that have legalized physician-assisted suicide.  In the remaining forty-six states, the act remains criminally punishible and the laws vary from state-to-state on penalties.

The Great Debate


Important Note: Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide are terms used interchangeably.

See BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (6th ed. 1990); under "euthanasia"

Voluntary Active and Passive Euthanasia involves a conscious choice by the patient.

Active voluntary euthanasia: the patient by choice is seeking to hasten their death through medical means.

Passive voluntary euthanasia: the choice of the patient to withdrawal care or the taking of measures to prevent care.


Involuntary Passive and Active Euthanasia puts the life of the patient in the hands of a third party.

Passive involuntary euthanasia: the withdrawal of care or cessation of life saving measures when the patient is unconscious, typically a choice of family members.

Active involuntary euthanasia: occurs when the patients are unable to make the choice for themselves and a doctor or family member chooses to hasten the death through medical means. 

Advanced directives: instructions expressing a patient’s wishes in regards to health treatment, preventing emotional tolls on the patients/families and include: living wills, durable power of attorney, and Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders.

  •  42 U.S.C.A. §1395cc(f) defines “advance directive” as a written instruction, such as a living will or durable power of attorney for health care, recognized under State law (either statutory or case law) and relating to the provision of such care when the individual is incapacitated.  

Where Active Euthanasia is Currently Legal?

Search the Library to locate books, e-books, videos, articles, journals...
Search For

Other Search Options