The idea of passive euthanasia has recently been attacked in a particularly clear and explicit way by an “Ethics Task Force” established by the European Association of Palliative Care (EAPC) in February 2001. It claims that the expression “passive euthanasia” is a contradiction in terms and hence that there can be no such thing. This paper critically assesses the main arguments for the Task Force’s view. Three arguments are considered. Firstly, an argument based on the (supposed) wrongness of euthanasia and the (supposed) permissibility of what is often called passive euthanasia. Secondly, the claim that passive euthanasia (so-called) cannot really be euthanasia because it does not cause death. And finally, a consequence based argument which appeals to the (alleged) bad consequences of accepting the category of passive euthanasia.
We conclude that although healthcare professionals’ nervousness about the concept of passive euthanasia is understandable, there is really no reason to abandon the category provided that it is properly and narrowly understand and provided that “euthanasia reasons” for withdrawing or withholding life-prolonging treatment are carefully distinguished from other reasons.