In the morning, my mother accidentally stepped on an ant. Usually, the ant would die instantly, but this time it was suffering for a minute or so. I noticed and asked my mom to kill it so that it didn't suffer for very long. She said, "No", and gave the excuse that you shouldn't kill something willingly. Well, for me it seemed more reasonable to kill it since it was going to die anyway. After all, killing it would have made it suffer less.

I killed the ant. I asked a few other people in my home about this and received a similar answer as that of my mother. "Killing something is never good", they said.

Is there anything wrong with my reasoning (ie. that I wanted to end the ant's suffering)? What is the most ethical thing to do in this situation?.

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    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 23:12
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  • You would need to develop your own moral framework before you can attempt to answer such questions. But personally, I don't think there is any good justification for either approach to be morally obligatory, because I think we have insufficient knowledge to decide the issue. Feel free to ask further if you want to know more, but it's just my own personal view.
    – user21820
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 12:17
  • @user21820 If by insufficient knowledge, you mean that the desire of the ant, then I admit that it is true. But in these types of cases where there's an animal involved, you can not have that information. You must choose one of the options available to you. Considering this, can you answer and justify? Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 13:53
  • @YoungKindaichi: Yes I do have my own answer for decision-making, based on my own moral framework. Briefly, in my framework every (intended) decision is either morally obligatory or morally permissible (but not obligatory) or morally impermissible. We first attempt to classify decisions into these 3 categories, and then we are free to do anything in the first 2. If we lack enough knowledge to do so, then we have to look at the moral consequences with respect to other moral beings (i.e. those who follow the same moral principles). This includes preserving their emotional stability. [cont]
    – user21820
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 15:12

3 Answers 3


Your mother killed the ant.

Your ending its pain during the course of its dying was a kindness.


"for me it seemed more reasonable to kill it since it was going to die anyway"

Its easier to address moral questions if we are more open about the reasoning behind the situation.

Did you ask the ant what it wanted?

Did you exhaust all medical options for curing the ant?

Did you kill the ant simply to reduce your own emotional suffering?

Clearly there is a moral argument for "mercy killing" but it seems to me that it wouldn't apply in this case. You simply killed the ant because it was the easiest option. I mean you probably killed/injured/left to die a slow lingering death, thousands of bugs that day, driving a car, putting pesticides on your garden, hoovering your carpet etc.

  • That looks you are passing judgment over me :) Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 13:55

Your question describes how an act deemed ethical for one person can be unethical for another.

So... how does a person determine who and/or what is right?

One way of solving this dilemma is to ask yourself, "Are there any guiding principles and/or goals I possess which might help me arrive at the right decision?".

From your answer, it seems that for you, one such principle might be something like, "Unnecessary suffering should be prevented".

Other people though, might be guided by the notion that, "All life is sacred. No human has the right to decide when a person (including themselves) or any other animal should die, even if that animal is suffering".

But then what? You already know you have a different perspective to your mother. So how do you decide which approach is right?

Only you can decide which viewpoint is appropriate for you, unless you decide to yield responsibility for such a decision to an external force, such as societal expectation, religious doctrine, familial instruction, peer opinion or the law.

When ever you become confused by an ethical problem, it can be very educational and even transformative to familiarise yourself with a variety of common approaches to ethics. Study of ethics can lead you to consider ways of responding to ethical dilemmas that you hadn't known were available to you.

The BBC's Ethics site, might prove useful in this regard, especially if English is your second language.

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