"1. The act or practice of ending the life of an individual suffering from a terminal illness or an incurable condition, as by lethal injection or the suspension of extraordinary medical treatment.
2. A quiet, painless death." 1
3. A third definition should have been added: . The deliberate murder of a sick or disabled individual for the benefit of a deviant society or other individual. In any discussion of euthanasia, the horrific killings of the disabled and mentally ill during the Nazi Era of Germany, during other periods in history, and even today, must be considered as a warning of the horrific excesses to which a society or an individual can go.
Historically, In situations where nomadic people could not survive as a group if the sick, disabled, and terminally ill elderly had to be carried along, it was a common practice for them to be left behind, or to voluntarily go away to die alone. As humans progressed in ability to survive in stabilized areas, compassionate long term care of the sick, disabled and dying became possible. But when doctors feel that they have the obligation to perform today's extraordinary measures which extend life without providing a tolerable quality of life, the situation has become one in which the family or the individual, through advance orders, must provide the decision to terminate the extraordinary procedures or measures.
Today, the desire for early termination of life can come as early as the first diagnosis of a cancer, and for reasons as simple as not wanting to be disfigured from cancer surgery. Some can get through to the last stages of cancer, others ask for early termination of life after years of battling with disease. Suicide in order to end intolerable emotional pain and suffering that results from from psychological or emotional disorders is one thing, but to commit suicide in advance of suffering or attempts at treatment is another. Each individual has a different level of tolerance for the processes of dying, different support and family structures, and different beliefs about extraordinary life extension procedures, which is why advance directives and orders to not resuscitate must be completed.
Given the variety in individual cases, differences in individual will to live, variances in tolerance for suffering and physical decline, and variations in what is considered "mandatory" extraordinary procedure, the practice of the hospice method allows a "quiet and painless death" and is, indeed, ethical. The suspension of extraordinary care when the patient's suffering will only end with death is, indeed, ethical. But the deliberate and willful act of inducing death before any intolerable suffering or inability to thrive begins, by whatever means, is as unethical as any act of suicide or murder.
1. The Free Dictionary: Medical Dictionionary