Slippery slope arguments are not always invalid.
Indeed, in some cases they are very important.
One such example is public policy and legislation.
In that realm, arguments about consequences are entirely valid because that is the very point of public policy.
Policies are adopted to bring about change.
When the same-sex marriage “no” campaign spoke about religious freedom and parents’ rights it was quite validly pointing out that changes to public policy always have consequences which ought to be carefully considered. The current debate on religious freedoms proves the point.
But in a sense those arguments were no different from the “yes” campaign – they, too, argued about consequences. For them, the consequences would include equality… validated lives… improved mental health… and nothing to fear for those who disagree.
The question was this: which set of consequences was more prescient?
Arguments that oppose euthanasia are frequently met with the same dismissive criticism. They are labelled “slippery slope” arguments and not given a second thought.
But pro-euthanasia advocates also argue from consequences. They claim that legislated euthanasia will improve the dignity of people’s lives and deaths.
But we are not just relying on prescience in the euthanasia debate. We have evidence of what the true consequences are because other nations have legislated euthanasia long before Australia.
I once heard a Dutch researcher speaking about the situation in his home country, where euthanasia was legislated in 2002. He summarised the litany of shocking outcomes after more than a decade of euthanasia, by saying that in his country, the “psyche of care” has been fundamentally changed.
Once you accept that death is a valid form of care, you have changed a great deal.
The Hippocratic oath has, for Millennia, enshrined the belief that intentional killing is the last thing that could possibly amount to care. But euthanasia re-engineers this most basic and fundamental principle which shapes the way we, as a society, understand life, death, suffering and care.
If the principle of care is re-engineered at its root, then surely countless branches will be corrupted? Surely we, as a society, with time, will see evidences of just how rotten the tree has become?
Belgium and the Netherlands – the two nations where euthanasia has been legal the longest – bear witness to the scale of the disaster.
When euthanasia was introduced in those countries, it was much more limited than it is today.
But it was always going to expand. Because once the bedrock principle of the sanctity of life is done away with, there is no clear alternative. Which lives are no longer sacred, exactly? Elderly lives? How elderly? You say 100 years of age… Why not 99? 90? 85? Or perhaps terminally ill lives? So, what should their life expectancy be? 6 months? Why not 9 months? A year? Why not end a life that is facing the prospect of 3 years of pain? Speaking of pain, what kind of pain? Surely if we limit it to physical suffering, we are just stigmatising mental illness? After years of raising awareness around mental illness that would be entirely improper.
In both nations this has been their slippery slope.
In Belgium, children of any age can be euthanised. In the Netherlands, it is still limited to people over the age of 12. Both nations permit euthanasia for mental suffering – no more LifeLine or Beyond Blue, then. Mobile “euthanasia units” will come to your house to administer the lethal dose, on demand. Reports indicate that the elderly are seeking aged care across the border in Germany out of fear that they will be euthanised.
Euthanasia cases have rapidly increased to the point where it now accounts for 4.5% of deaths. Those deaths include people who are “tired of life”, or never even gave their explicit consent.
But that is just the beginning. Let me share just a tiny number of the documented cases.
A young Belgian woman with borderline personality disorder was euthanised in 2012 at the behest of her parents. Even though she did not have depression, she was deemed to be suffering sufficiently because she found it impossible to have a goal in life. She was 25.
Mark Langedijk was euthanised in 2016 at the age of 41 because he struggled with alcoholism. His brother described how Mark sat on a bench in his parents’ garden eating soup and meatballs until the doctor arrived. He drank a glass of wine, smoked a cigarette, but turned down a second because, as he said, “I’m dying now.”
Tom Mortier was contacted whilst at work one day in 2012. He was informed that his mother had been euthanised without his knowledge. She was 64 years old and suffering from depression. Her treating doctors were not persuaded that her depression was incurable, but she found others who would administer the lethal dose anyway.
The Dignitas Clinic in Basel, Switzerland, euthanised Magistrate Pietro D’Amico because he had been diagnosed as terminally ill by three doctors. His subsequent autopsy revealed that the diagnosis was entirely wrong.
Wrong diagnoses affects 5% of outpatients in the US, amounting to 12,000,000 mistakes every year.
45-year-old twins Marc and Eddy Verbessem were blind. Upon hearing that they would also go deaf, they obtained euthanasia in 2013, believing they had nothing left to live for.
That same year, a 44-year-old was euthanised after a botched sex-change surgery left her looking, in her words, “like a monster.”
Last year in Holland, a doctor had sedated an elderly female patient by drugging her coffee. But whilst the lethal drip was inserted, the patient unexpectedly rallied and began to struggle. The doctor called on the patient’s family to hold her down whilst she was killed. A subsequent investigation found that the doctor had “crossed a line” and should not have proceeded, but had not broken the law.
The year before, a woman was euthanised for mental suffering stemming from her history of child sexual abuse.
Last year in Belgium, an elderly woman was euthanised without having requested it at all. The decision was made for her by her family.
A 2015 Belgian report indicated that this was not an isolated case. 1 in 60 deaths under a GP’s care in Belgium now occur without an explicit request from the patient.
Deaths from misdiagnosis. Deaths for depressive illnesses. Deaths because people are tired of life. Convenient deaths carried out by mobile euthanasia units. Deaths of the disabled. Deaths because of elder abuse and social pressure to stop being a burden.
Indeed, the psyche of care has changed. It has been re-engineered at the root, and the consequences are very dark indeed. These stories barely scratch the surface.
Will it happen here? One only has to look at the death of Dr David Goodall to know that it will. Australian advocates have barely raised an eyebrow or murmured discontent at the idea of a man killing himself simply because he is old. That should concern us all. It tells us where the mindset of euthanasia advocates really rests: quite a way down the “slippery slope.”