Campaigners for relaxation of the law typically stress that they are campaigning only for V AE –voluntary active euthanasia. VAE is generally understood to mean euthanasia at the request of the patient,1 and this is how it will be used in this book. VAE can be contrasted with 'non-voluntary' active euthanasia (NVAE), that is, euthanasia performed on those who do not have the mental ability to request euthanasia (such as babies or adults with advanced dementia) or those who, though competent, are not given the opportunity to consent to it. Finally, euthanasia against the wishes of a competent patient is often referred to as 'involuntary' euthanasia (IVAE).
Some commentators lump together the last two categories and classify all euthanasia without request as 'involuntary'. Others (including the author) think that it is preferable to keep the two categories distinct, not least because it helps to avoid unnecessary confusion.
Given the absence of any universally agreed definition of 'euthanasia' it is vital to be clear about how the word is being used in any particular context. The cost of not doing so is confusion. For example, if an opinion pollster asks people whether they support 'euthanasia', and the pollster understands the word to mean one thing (such as giving patients a lethal injection) while the people polled think it means another (such as withdrawing a life-prolonging treatment which the patient has asked to be withdrawn because it is too burdensome), the results of the poll will be worthless. Similarly, if two people are discussing whether 'euthanasia'____________________