General English

  • noun mercy killing, the killing of a sick person in order to put an end to his or her suffering


  • noun the act of killing a sick animal in a humane way


  • noun the act of killing a very sick or very old person to end to his or her suffering


  • noun the painless killing of an incurably ill person or someone in a permanent coma in order to end their distress.

Origin & History of “euthanasia”

Etymologically, euthanasia means ‘good death’, and that was more or less its signification when it was introduced into English: ‘Give me but gentle Death: Euthanasia, Euthanasia, that is all I implore’, Tatler 1709. The modern use of the word, ‘mercy killing’, seems to have originated in the 1860s; the first recorded use of it was by William Lecky in his History of European morals 1869. The term is borrowed from Greek euthanasíā, a compound based on the prefix eu- ‘good’ and thánatos ‘death’.