Recently there was a question that concerned life support equipment. In this case, the asker was making a backup power supply for his respirator. That question is here: Relay not switching immediately from switching power supply to battery backup

I'm not sure how to react to these sorts of questions. Maybe these kinds of projects are so critical that it could be argued that if you need to ask, then you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. The opposite argument is that "if you're going to do it anyway, better to ask".

In any case, this puts the answerers and the community in a difficult position. On a quick look, I didn't find a policy about this. How to handle questions with legal ramifications is close but not quite on point here.

Any ideas here? I generally would like to help people, but I don't want to help getting anyone killed. Then again, I would like to help people get not killed. But even that seems risky. What to do?


1 Answer 1


Personally I think they should be handled like any other question but people answering should just add any appropriate warnings on a case by case basis rather than having a particular policy about it. I'd tend to side with the "if you're going to do it anyway, better to ask" side of the argument and some things I can see as problematic with trying to blanket close such questions:

  • Although it doesn't seem to be the case for this particular question sometimes it will be from someone in a country or financial position where it's either a non-approved DIY solution or nothing at all.

  • It only encourages people to work around things by not saying what it's really for. Being a fairly experienced Stack Exchange user to be honest if I had the same question I'd just say it was for a Raspberry Pi datalogger to avoid all the fuss.

  • EE.SE is supposed to be for professionals as well, so sometimes there will be questions from people actually designing life-critical systems that have a question on something.

While I'm not a lawyer I've never seen any indication from Stack Exchange that legal liability for answers is a problem for them. Even for Stack Overflow I'd be surprised if at some point someone hasn't done a copy/paste of an answer that resulted in multi-million dollar loss from a data breach of some form.

From a personal liability point of view I can't offer legal advice either but I suspect a reasonable disclaimer and warnings would largely discount the possibility of that happening. But if that was of particular concern to you just not answering the question is an option and leave it for someone that is confident of covering all the bases, which may well be a professional in that area.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Well said Peter \$\endgroup\$
    – clabacchio
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 20:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is not legal advice, but professionals in particular might want to review their duty of care under tort law. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 1:27

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