With animals, when they are in considerable pain or suffering from a terminal condition, it's typically considered humane to euthanize them as a way to minimize suffering. However, with humans, the concept of euthanasia is considered highly taboo, and in many places, illegal.

How is it less humane to allow a person suffering physically to choose to end that suffering? Similarly, why with someone who is suffering from a severe mental illness or depression do we force them to keep going? Is it not more humane to allow them to determine their own paths?

Edit: I have a feeling a lot of people are going to have a strong opinion on this, and some of the reactions may be vitriolic, so I implore you to be calm and clinical with your thought processes.

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    "With animals, when they are in considerable pain or suffering from a terminal condition, it's typically considered - BY HUMANS - humane to euthanize them." Ever asked to an animal his opinion ? Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 6:45
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA animal consent seems crucial.
    – Dennis
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 6:47
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    While an interesting question on a certain level and definitely one that invites discussion, I don't think this as currently worded and structured is a good fit for the site. What would a correct answer look like? At best it seems like a correct answer is one that convinces the OP but not based on objective criteria.
    – virmaior
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 22:06

6 Answers 6


From one perspective, this aligns exactly with the argument against the death penalty, and it doesn't apply to animals for exactly the reason we do not consider the killing of an animal to be murder.

Death is very final, and mental states and states of health are less so. Just as in the death-penalty argument guilt is not certain, neither, in this case is the suffering. (Nor ultimately is the death we are choosing. We have examples like Anna Quinland, who was euthanized and failed to die, only to recover completely and speak out ardently against euthanasia. And we have many people hideously maimed by failed suicide attempts.)

Obviously suicidality is often the consequence of a mental disease, which may be ameliorated, or naturally pass.

The cost of the loss also does not fall only on the deceased, but on those who had hopes for them, or who depended upon them. So if the avoided outcome is not outright inevitable, they are not the only ones who should make the decision. And we do not know that those making that call by proxy are also seeing things in a way that is fair to the person killed. Who should make that call may be an intractable question.

So the question is how to decide when a current mental state outweighs a potential later one, and another is making the distinction between when someone rationally sees no way out, and when they are mistaken. Most cultures choose not to choose, and await the natural outcome. Our laws and religious codes come from such times. But we now have the ability to maintain life almost indefinitely, so we need a real solution, which is proving very hard to attain.

  • Great discussion of the cost of the loss. By the way, couldn't suicidality be defined as a mental disease? Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 16:21
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    @elliotsvensson No, it is a symptom of a rather large number of them, not necessarily all related to depression. Many men who kill themselves are not depressed, they just fear becoming useless and don't estimate their own value to others very highly. Most people who repeatedly try to kill themselves are disoriented by rage -- they have enough moral wherewithall not to kill someone else, and killing themselves seems like a reasonable way to do so. Some people are ordered to kill by their hallucinations, and choose themselves as the person to use to comply with this.
    – user9166
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 16:32
  • Would it be true to say that "suicide is always the symptom of one or more mental diseases"? Or put differently, what are non-diseased mental states that result in suicide? Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 16:36
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    @elliotsvensson You could do that by fiat, but no, by modern standards you cannot say that suicidality is never logical. For the same reason homosexuality and transgenderism are no longer mental disorders. A disease causes distress or impedes functionality, interferes with contact with reality, or creates social problems. Say I am dying to give my organs to my child who would otherwise die tomorrow... No call on whether that is lucid.
    – user9166
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 16:50
  • Fair enough. That was the subject of the Will Smith movie "Seven Pounds"--- which felt like a moral Rorschach test to me. Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 16:54

Euthanasia is considered inhumane because people tend to think that the perceived large gain of the sick (live as long as possible) outweighs the perceived minor loss of the others (treating and sustaining the sick).

This happens because resources are perceived to be abundant (at least in the western world, hospitals are stocked with whatever one desires) and individual success stories are generalized (we hear about the one cancer patient that was actually cured and lived happily many more years, but not about the many that are treated but die in pain nevertheless).

If resources get scarce or you consider the individual suffering more, the assessment will change (e.g. when killing the wounded on the battlefield if you cannot treat them).


Human rights always start with the right to live, which also appears in the right to due process, the right to pursue happiness, the right to property, indeed all other rights.

Human duties always start with the duty to protect another person's life, and probably the most well-known Commandment (of the Ten) is "thou shalt not kill".

Thus it requires two or three supervening claims about morality to come to the conclusion that for some other person, it is better for you to cause that person's death. I strain to come up with an example.

Suppose that death is wished by the individual, who is however incapable of causing him- or herself to die. Still, as that person's friend, traditional friendship demands that you strive to prevent your friend's death, notwithstanding the person's statements, presumed to be in bad judgment. And the Hippocratic Oath demands of doctors that they just don't do it, unless "harm" can be redefined such that a person is "harmed" when you don't kill somebody.

Or suppose that the board of directors of a hospital, doctors group, or insurance provider (or state government) attempts to adopt a practice of medical euthanasia under some stated conditions, they might relieve an individual doctor of the final decision. But this seems to contradict the US Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which grant all persons the right to due process, in which nobody may be killed without being found guilty judicially and so sentenced.

"Pulling the plug" on brain-dead patients is different, in that the patient has been acknowledged by the medical community to be dead in spite of the appearance of certain vital signs. Until this understanding is overturned somehow, there is not a moral dilemma here because the person is dead. The difficulty people feel is a result of our medical technology and the way it prolongs dying.

It seems to me that regarding suicide, there is actually little anybody can do to prevent the suicidal from determining their own path. But there is a strong social and moral resistance from helping such a person down that path, including our moral and practical statements against suicide.

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    But don't people have the ability to waive their rights? If a person is depressed or in physical pain, does anyone have the right to deny them a painless death if that's what they want?
    – user189728
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 15:35
  • I think the word "deny" is causing a problem here. You are actually asking, "does anyone have the right to refuse to pick up a lethal weapon or chemical and kill a person if that is what they ask for?" Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 15:37
  • That's actually a good point, it reminds me of the argument against socialized healthcare used by Rand Paul. I suppose I mean "deny" in the legalistic sense of euthanasia / assisted suicide
    – user189728
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 15:39
  • Right. And what I'm saying is that "euthanasia" is not a thing... it's something somebody else does. Likewise with "assisted suicide". Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 15:40
  • So you're saying a medical professional and an individual both consenting to this procedure isn't a thing?
    – user189728
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 15:41

I am confused by the inclusion of suicide in your question. Leaving that aside, I will address euthanasia. For me, this comes down to bodily autonomy. This is guaranteed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. So someone has the right to die. A legal and practical issue arises when someone lacks mental capacity but is suffering, and has not left instructions. Voluntary euthanasia is equivalent to assisted suicide.


I'm going to use this definition of humane:

A humane person is one who shows great compassion and caring for others, including animals, and who tries whenever possible to alleviate another's suffering.


If the suicide or euthanasia is sincerely to alleviate suffering, then it can be considered a humane act.

The term "suffering" has a broad definition and the kind of suffering that warrants death, is subjective and includes many social and religious aspects. It may be physical (broken bone) or psychological (guilt, shyness, etc).

It all reduces to a simple statement: Euthanasia or suicide require an extraordinary explanation to be considered humane because 99% of time, suffering can be alleviated without resorting to death.

A soldier who jumps on a live grenade to save his squad is committing a humane suicide designed to alleviate the overall suffering of the squad.


It is simple really, it all boils down to religion(no hate, just an observation). Since that is the basis for our society, and taking a human life is kinda a big deal. It will not get you in heaven(unless you take into account Jesus took all our sins). But animals are there for the humans, so offing them is not a big deal, and is indeed considered humane.

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    Welcome to Philosophy SE! It would greatly enhance your answer if you could supply some references, maybe you have read someone that hold these views...
    – christo183
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 9:54

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