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Related on Meta Stack Exchange: How should a user's death be handled?


I've encountered a question from a user who appears to be dying soon: Cannot see index.php on localhost"

The question is reasonably well-written and appears to be on topic for Super User. It really wouldn't be better on Server Fault or Stack Overflow, as the question does not involve a professional computing environment or actual code. (It may get a better response on Webmasters, but it's on-topic for Super User as far as I can tell.) The user appears to have a basic grasp of web development but needs help with setting up a web server in a personal environment.

In future situations of this sort, and in the absence of any serious problems with the question posted by the user, how do we best help the user and cherish their work? How, if in any special way, should we treat these users?

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I wouldn't consider such a question fundamentally exceptional - with regards to the eventual mortality of the poster.

There's a few aspects I'd consider - I'm sorry if some of these points sound harsh, but I'd rather consider cold hard logic before emotions.

  • Question/Post not people
    Besides the fact that the OP is terminally ill, does the post have sufficient quality to stand on its own?

  • Does this guy seem legit?
    I've seen situations where folks arn't anything like they seem. I've had valued, and I dare say well loved members of a community, turn out to be a sock used for RP purposes. Of course, I'd have a greater emotive response if its someone I know and interact with rather than a new user.

  • How noisy is the mention of impending death?
    If the user goes into detail over what's killing him, and it drowns out the main question, it may be worth editing.

  • How often does it happen?
    An occasional post of this nature may be ok, but if someone or more than one person constantly bookends posts with his own obituary, we'd have issues.

What do we do?

Look at the question first and decide based off that is generally a good idea.

I'd add someone threatening suicide would be something you want to flag. I'll leave edits to questions like that to informational and copywriting fixes at least initially, taking into account my last two points, though I'd be inclined to remove anything not directly relevant to the answer after the OP gets an answer.

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Personally I would advocate removing the "please help me soon, I'm dying" comments.

The more we allow these style of comments then the more potential it has for being abused.

Instead of giving favourable treatment to the elderly/ill/soon to be deceased we should be looking to be completely neutral and fair to every user. We are not a medical support group and should not be trying to council or show favouritism to terminally ill people in my opinion.

It does not add anything to the question at hand to have that kind of comment in there, past to give some kind of idea of the motivation for wanting to solve the problem. If it were brought up as a comment then I wouldn't see a problem but in a question it is too irrelevant to the actual problem to be useful.

  • It's a slippery slope and sets a bad precedent for other questions, inviting abuse. It isn't appropriate in the question. Possibly OK as a comment, which gets deleted once the question has been answered. – fixer1234 Dec 8 '14 at 4:57
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Keep in mind that what follows below is just my opinion, and you may agree/disagree with parts of it. Feel free to comment or provide your own answer.


I don't think there is any way we can (or should) treat questions differently based on the user asking it, or their situation. Recall that this site's primary goal is to build a repository of knowledge in the form of Q&A for future searches. To this end, we should only consider the content of the question: if it's a good question and you can answer it, do so. If it's a bad question, improve it or vote to close it. While making these decisions, only consider the content of the question, not who asked it.

Even aside from the future value of a question, there's one very important point: how can these users be treated differently, as a community? More leniency for bad questions would be detrimental to the site as a whole. Good questions should be treated alike.

As far as answering a question, and the effort put into it - that's up to the individual, and not something we can really control as a community. Whoever writes an answer can do so as they wish. Same for voting. It's really up to you how you wish to answer/vote, though I would recommend, again, doing so based on the content. If you want to see them get better answers, consider placing a bounty on the question - again, that's up to you.


Also consider:

  • There's really no way to confirm any claims like this, nor should we even attempt to.
  • Should we treat users more harshly because of who they are, or their situation unrelated to the technical question? What's the scale of "this user deserves better" or "this user should get off our site"? That's heavily subjective. Better to leave that out of the equation entirely.
  • Should we edit out such non-technical addendums to questions? Well... the cold answer is yes. But I'm not completely heartless. Unless we get a large quantity of them, isolated cases could be left as-is.
  • All these answers (Bob's and the 2 mod's) are good. And I say that as someone who could ask such a question. I don't mention my prognosis (a condition which will likely kill me) unless it's relevant, and until this comment, it hasn't been. I participate in a couple forums with others with the condition and it's rarely on-topic, even there. In one, there's a guideline that explains that pleas for (financial) help are unwelcome. – Matthew Elvey Oct 16 '18 at 21:46

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