I understand that there are multiple question on here regarding mercy killing, assisted suicide and euthanasia but as I've read, the specifics of the situation are crucial to the legality of it and my question differs from the others as most of them relate to illnes related euthanasia.

Let us imagine there is a man A chained/handcuffed to a radiator in a burning building with no way of freeing himself. Another person, man B, finds him and after a short, futile attempt to rescue him, the handcuffed man A begs the other to shoot him as a much preferred alternative to burning to death. Assuming the 2 parties involved are not guilty of any other crimes I.e. man B is carrying a legal weapon and is not the one who wrongfully imprisoned man A, and the fire is inches away with not other options, could he mercifully kill man A? If not is he legally obligated to let this man burn to death?

  • If man A were to get a hold of man B's gun (and kill himself with it), it would be difficult to determine how that may have happened. So why exactly would you need to resort to murder? Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 13:59
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    @EmilKarlsson Lots of possibilities. Man A may be asking for death but still too afraid to kill himself, refuse due to religious reasons, or simply unable to do it (e.g. both hands are chained). In any case that is immaterial to the question.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 14:04
  • See also Armin Meiwes Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 16:36
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    We still don't have a tag for "can I kill someone under X circumstances"? Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 22:01
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    @Seekinganswers - I was pointing out that we frequently get a question that asks if the OP can kill someone and get away with it. Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 16:29

5 Answers 5


Outside of the very specialized legislated regime for medical assistance in dying, a person cannot consent to being killed, and any such purported consent does not relieve the other party from criminal responsibility.

See s. 14 of the Criminal Code:

No person is entitled to consent to have death inflicted on them, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person who inflicts death on the person who gave consent.

Nothing that you've described changes the fact that the elements of murder are made out.

I cannot predict the exercise of prosecutorial discretion or the behaviour of a jury, but if the Crown brings a charge, and the facts you describe are established, a properly instructed jury following their instructions would convict. The penalty for second degree murder in Canada is life imprisonment with eligibility for parole after 10–25 years.

  • 1
    So what would happen to the man in that situation that pulled the trigger? Does the law expect the restrained man to be left to burn? If you could sufficiently prove that you had made every possible effort to free the man but it was absolutely certain he was going to die wouldnthat have any bearing on the murder trial?
    – Ethan
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 12:52
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    @Ethan the law simply expects you not to shoot them. Not more, not less.
    – Trish
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 14:40
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    @Ethan The best case for the shooter would be if they accidentally killed the victim while attempting to shoot the cuffs off. Traditional morality, which strongly influences the law in many places, is that it is always wrong to cause the death of another as a means or an end, but due to the principle of "dual effect" the high risk action (attempting to shoot the cuffs while distracted by smoke and impending flames, or in the case of the terminally ill, administering a dangerous dose of morphine to relieve pain) is morally OK if the real desired end is good (eg, freed victim, relieved pain)
    – Brian
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 18:21
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    So since there is death if I don’t act, I would be justified to try to free him using very high risk means. Without intent to kill.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 18:50

Currently it's Illegal in

The paragraphs on killing someone are StGB §211, 212, 213, and 216. None of them leave a gap to allow active euthanasia or mercy killing under any conditions, and it is not possible under German jurisprudence to agree to be killed.

It is much more likely to be treated as either Mord (murder, §211), punished with life in prison, or killing on demand (§ 216), punished with 6 months to 5 years in prison.

Assisting Suicide

The only legal form of actively assisting in someone's death is to assist them in suicide, for example by handing them the means to end their own life. However, they have to act themselves to kill themselves and can not assist further such as administering a lethal medicine. That eviscerated § 217, as the highest German court decided that that paragraph violated the basic law.

As such, Bob may give Adam, chained to the radiator, the gun and assist in aiming it at himself, but he may not pull the trigger.

Passive euthanasia

The other method of bringing someone to death legally is Behandlungsabbruch, end of medical treatment. This is legally distinct from any killing, as even as end of medical treatment might enforce the end of someone's life, it is not an act of killing, but ending treatment is a choice of the treated, so the highest German court.

This is not available in the situation of Adam chained to the radiator.



The first major problem with the accused position is that all the elements of murder is not in dispute - they killed the victim and they intended to kill the victim. The second is that the accused’s version of events is going to be difficult to prove without independent witnesses or other completing evidence; the accused themselves being somewhat of a biased witness.

However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that either the prosecution accepts the accused version in an agreed statement of facts or the jury reaches that conclusion where it is contested.

The Crimes Act s18(2)(1) provides “No act or omission which was not malicious, or for which the accused had lawful cause or excuse, shall be within this section.”

Legally, one acts maliciously if one intends to cause harm, the reason why one is doing so are irrelevant, so the accused acted with malice notwithstanding their “good” intentions. So that defence is closed.

So, that leaves “lawful cause or excuse”. These are the lawful causes that the law recognises:

  1. Self-defence
  2. Automatism
  3. Duress
  4. Necessity - irreparable evil
  5. Necessity - imminent peril
  6. Mental Impairment
  7. Lawful force for law enforcement or military operations (not addressed in the article).

Of these, only Necessity - irreparable evil seems arguable.

Unfortunately, necessity is a very tough defence to make out: R v Loughnan [1981] VR 443 at [448] decided that, among other things the accused needed to prove on the balance of probabilities that the murder was done “in order to avoid certain consequences which would have inflicted irreparable evil”. As described, irreparable evil seems very, very likely; but it isn’t “certain”. Certain means there is absolutely no possibility of a last second rescue even if that would appear to border on the miraculous.

In any event, “the defence has never been accepted in a murder case in any Australian jurisdiction, and it is generally considered there are few if any situations where it could be used as a defence to murder; see R v Howe [1987] AC 417.” That case decided that duress was never a defence to murder and that a person should sacrifice themselves or the hostage rather than committing murder. Analogously, there is no “irreparable evil” that could be avoided by murder.


In the scenario, on the face of it Man B is guilty of murdering Man A. Man B intended to kill Man A and did kill Man A. The reasonable force defences seem inapplicable: self-defence, defence of another, defence of property, prevention of crime, lawful arrest. In English law there is no defence or exception for 'mercy killing'.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) might decide that prosecution is not in the public interest. See Public Interest Factors Tending in Favour of or Against Prosecution in homicide cases:

A prosecution is less likely to be required if:

  1. The victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision that they wished for their life to end.
  2. They must have the freedom and capacity to make such a decision. This decision must have been made sufficiently close in time to their death and independently reached by the victim and not influenced by pressure, control or coercion by the suspect or anyone else. This requires thorough scrutiny and critical examination of the suspect's account, on its own and when placed in the context of the evidence as a whole. Prosecutors should consider what access the victim had to health care professionals including discussions about treatment and support options.
  3. The suspect was motivated by compassion alone and only in circumstances where the preceding factor is present;
  4. The victim was physically unable to undertake the act to end their own life;
  5. The actions of the suspect may be characterised as reluctant, in the face of significant emotional pressure due to the victim's wish for their life to end. Prosecutors should consider whether this is capable of independent verification by others;
  6. The suspect made a genuine attempt to take their own life at the same time;
  7. The suspect reported the death to the police and fully assisted them in their enquiries into the circumstances and their part in it.

There are statistics for 'assisted suicide' cases that may of interest - I quote them here to support the point about prosecutorial discretion:

From 1 April 2009 up to 31 March 2023, there have been 182 cases referred to the CPS by the police that have been recorded as assisted suicide. Of these 182 cases, 125 were not proceeded with by the CPS and 35 cases were withdrawn by the police.

There are currently four ongoing cases. Four cases of encouraging or assisting suicide have been successfully prosecuted. One case of assisted suicide was charged and acquitted after trial in May 2015 and eight cases were referred onwards for prosecution for homicide or other serious crime.

Assisted Suicide article, CPS website, 18 April 2023

If this case went to trial, sufficient members of the jury might decide Man B is not guilty of murder, regardless of the fact that technically he is guilty, for him to be acquitted. (If in the first instance there isn't a unanimous verdict then the judge might rule that a majority verdict can be accepted. If there are 12 jurors then the majority verdict can be 11-1 or 10-2.)

If the jury delivered a guilty verdict, the judge might reduce Man B's minimum term of imprisonment: "a belief by the offender that the murder was an act of mercy" is a mitigating factor (section 10(f) Schedule 21 Sentencing Act 2020).

In comments on Jen's answer here the questioner asks, "does the law expect the restrained man to be left to burn?" The law doesn't go into such details. In the scenario we only have Man B's word on why he was there and why he did what he did. How can we know that he wasn't the person who restrained Man A in the first place? The authorities investigate, which includes interviewing Man B to hear his position, and, if he is prosecuted, a jury hears from the prosecution and the defence.


Man B would be committing homicide under Brazilian criminal law, although he can have their sentence reduced by between one sixth and one third if the court rules that there was "relevant social or moral value" in the killing.

It would be also a crime to assist Man A to commit suicide.

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