When Jonas views the release of an infant on The Giver's video screen, he realizes for the first time that "release" means death, or, in this case, infanticide. Release for elderly people or for people who have broken the rules three times also means death, or euthanasia.
Infanticide is the killing of a newborn child. In the past, the main reason for infanticide was due to food shortages among primitive cultures. In most countries today, infanticide is considered a form of murder.
Euthanasia is the method of ending the life of a person who is suffering from incurable pain or disease. Euthanasia can be voluntary, meaning that the person has requested his or her own death, or involuntary, meaning that the person has not explicitly requested death. Euthanasia can also be active or passive. Active euthanasia involves taking deliberate action, such as giving drugs, to cause death. Passive euthanasia takes place when someone is allowed to die by withdrawing life-sustaining treatment.
The ideas of infanticide and euthanasia are not new. In ancient Greece, Plutarch wrote that infanticide was a common practice in Sparta to rid the city of children who "lacked health and vigor." Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato all favored euthanasia but only under certain conditions. As organized religion flourished, euthanasia became morally and ethically condemned by religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all of which consider human life to be sacred.
Euthanasia is an extremely controversial subject, and it is easy to imagine how the power to euthanize can get out of hand. In Jonas' community, such power is abused. Anyone who is different, who does not follow the rules, or who is no longer useful to the community is killed. The people in charge, including Nurturers — like Jonas' father — and the Director of the House of the Old, are simply following rules set forth in the Book of Rules, which was established to maintain the safety and security of the community. Like The Giver says about Jonas' father, who kills an infant in Chapter 19, "It's what he was told to do, and he knows nothing else." The irony of killing people who are different in order to maintain Sameness reinforces Lowry's theme that people must be aware of and care about other people.