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Abortion and Euthanasia: Key Terms
Abortion The termination of a pregnancy by artificial means.
Consciousness Awareness of self as an independent being, the ability to feel pain and pleasure.
Doctrine of double effect An action where the main intention is to do good, but which may have a bad
side-effect. The good intention makes the action right.
Embryo The developing bundle of cells in the womb up to eight weeks' gestation (the process or period of
developing inside the womb between conception and birth).
Ensoulment The moment when the soul enters the body in traditional Christian thought this was at forty days
for boys and ninety days for girls. The Church now believes that life begins at conception.
Foetus An organism in the womb from nine weeks until birth.
Hippocratic Oath Written in the fifth century BCE, it became the
basis for doctors' ethics. Other promises now replace it, but it is
specifically against abortion ("And likewise I will not give a woman a
destructive pessary." (a small soluble block that is inserted into the
vagina to treat infection or as a contraceptive.))
Ordinary and Extraordinary Means According to Natural Law
moral duties apply in ordinary situations. A patient may refuse
certain treatments on the grounds that they are `extraordinary' (i.e.
over and above the essential).
Personhood Definition of a human being as a person having consciousness, self-awareness, ability to reason
Primitive Streak The first sign of new human life.
Quality of Life The belief that human life is not valuable in itself; it depends on what kind of life it is.
Sanctity of Life The belief that human life is valuable in itself.
Viability Where a foetus is considered capable of sustaining its own life, given the necessary care.
Active Euthanasia The intentional premature termination of another person's life.
Assisted Dying/Suicide When a person takes their own life with the assistance of another person. When the
other person is a doctor, it is called physician-assisted suicide.
Autonomy Self-directed freedom, arriving at moral judgement through reason.
Involuntary Euthanasia This term is used when someone's life is ended to prevent their suffering, without
their consent, even though they are capable of consenting.
Passive Euthanasia Treatment is either withdrawn or not given to the patient in order to hasten death. This
could include turning off a life support machine.
PVS (Permanent Vegetative State) When a patient is in this condition,
doctors may seek to end their life. The relatives have to agree and usually the
patient must be brain-stem dead.
Slippery Slope A concept used to suggest that when one moral law is
broken others will also be gradually broken and there will be no moral
Voluntary Euthanasia The intentional premature termination of another
person's life at their request.