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The act or practice of putting to death or allowing the death, in a relatively painless way, of persons or animals suffering severely from medical conditions that are incurable, untreatable, or irreversible. Euthanasia is a controversial topic. The humanitarian appeal of euthanasia is that it allows patients to end their own pointless, protracted misery. Because of prohibitions against murder and suicide, however, societies do not all recognize a right of patients to elect their own deaths under any circumstances. Medical and legal authorities are also divided about whether patients in severe pain (and their families or caretakers) can make sound decisions about ending their lives. Euthanasia is often referred to as physician-assisted suicide, particularly when it would involve the participation or cooperation of a medical professional. However, deliberately ending a patient's life can lead to bioethical dilemmas because of the traditional medical tenet to "do no harm." Legislative and judicial branches of governments have become involved in the controversial issue of euthanasia, and laws dictating the conditions under which euthanasia is allowed or not have been enacted in various countries throughout the world. See also: Bioethics; Critical care medicine; Death; Disease; Medicine; Suicide
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