Short guide to key terms

Voluntary euthanasia
The intentional killing of a dependent person for his or her alleged benefit following his or her consent.

Non-voluntary euthanasia
The intentional killing of a dependent person for his or her alleged benefit without his or her consent.

Involuntary euthanasia
The intentional killing of a dependent person for his or her perceived benefit against his or her consent.

Suicide
The voluntary and intentional termination of one's own life.

Assisted suicide
The intentional act of providing an individual with information, guidance, and/or the means for him or her, voluntarily and intentionally, to terminate his or her own life.

Physican assisted suicide
The voluntary and intentional termination of one's own life by administration of a lethal substance with the direct or indirect assistance of a physician.

The principle of double effect
An action performed to achieve a good and intended effect is permissable even if it also results in an unintended and undesirable effect. An example of this is the administration of necessary pain-relief medication to a patient even if this may have an adverse effect on other aspects of his or her health.

Palliative care
The active holistic care of individuals with advanced progressive illnesses. It includes management of pain and other symptoms as well as the provision of psychological, social and spiritual support in order to achieve the best quality of life possible for individuals and families.

The Code for Crown Prosecutors
This allows for a degree of discretion on the part of the prosecuting authorities enabling them not to prosecute if such an action were deemed not to be 'in the public interest'. One of the factors to be taken into consideration is the likelihood of a court imposing a nominal penalty. Some assisted suicide cases have not proceeded to prosecution on this basis indicating that the law does not need to be changed in order to deal compassionately with cases genuinely deserving of empathy.

The Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill
A number of attempts have been made to change the law with regard to assisted suicide and euthanasia. The most recent comprehensive Bill brought forward was Lord Joffe's Bill which was rejected by the House of Lords in May 2006 by 148 votes to 100.