On slippery slopes

Slippery slope arguments are a logical fallacy: just because there is a slippery slope does not mean that the next stage is inevitable, only that it\’s possible.

Yet those (like myself) who are opposed to euthanasia on those slippery slope arguments might have something here:

Euthanasia now accounts for two per cent of all deaths in the country.

That\’s for Belgium

The report comes just a year after researchers found a high proportion of deaths classified as euthanasia in Belgium have involved patients who have not requested their lives to be ended by a doctor.

Ouch

Given that half of all euthanasia cases in Belgium are involuntary

OK, that last is a campaigner against euthanasia but there is some independent support for what he says.

Doctors are impressed by the superior condition of lungs taken from people who killed by lethal injection compared to those extracted from those killed in accidents.

Surgeons in Leuven between 2007 and 2009 successfully transplanted four pairs of lungs from people who died from euthanasia.

Cancer victims cannot be donors so the cases involved one person with an ‘unbearable mental disorder’ and the other three people suffering from ‘a debilitating benign disease such as a neurological or muscular disorder’. All of the donors had given their consent.

Umm, no, can\’t see any sign of a slippery slope there at all. Nope.

From why shouldn\’t people, terminally ill, in huge pain, be allowed to kill themselves to 1% of the population ending their lives being killed without asking for it. And the surgeons prepping up to harvest their \”high quality\” organs.

There was a cartoon in the South China Post a few years back (lost the cartoonist his job) about the Chinese practice of harvesting organs from executed prisoners. The laddie was pictured asking people their blood type before inveigling them into anti-communist statements which led to their execution.

That the slippery slope argument is a logical fallacy is true, for it\’s not necessary that these things follow on. But even logical fallacies can be correct in the real world, as sometimes these things do follow on.

\”one person with an ‘unbearable mental disorder’\”

Killing nutters to get their lungs, eh?

23 comments on “On slippery slopes

  1. A quick question: do they ‘harvest’ the organs before or after giving that poisonously lethal injection?

    And another: or is that particular injection no longer necessary?

    Best regards

  2. Unbearable does not mean incurable. It does not mean much really except the person is unhappy.

    Depression for instance.

    The slippery slope here is not that doctors will do things that we don’t approve of, but that legalisation will change society so much that when doctors do things we wouldn’t accept, we will no longer care.

  3. Nigel Sedgwick – “A quick question: do they ‘harvest’ the organs before or after giving that poisonously lethal injection?”

    The article makes it clear:

    They reveal how ‘donors were admitted to the hospital a few hours before the planned euthanasia procedure’.

    ‘A central venous line was placed in a room adjacent to the operating room,’ said the report by D. Van Raemdonck et al, a team of surgeons from Leuven

    ‘Donors were heparinised [injected with an anticoagulant] immediately before a cocktail of drugs was given by the treating physician who agreed to perform the euthanasia.

    ‘The patient was announced dead on cardiorespiratory criteria by three independent physicians as required by Belgian legislation for every organ donor.

    ‘The deceased was then rapidly transferred, installed on the operating table, and intubated.’

    The team found that the lungs were not traumatised by an ‘agonal’ phase seen in people killed by serious head injuries, the most common type of transplant donor.

    The word that stands out there is intubated. If the deceased is dead – and cardiorespiratory criteria must mean their heart and lungs have stopped working, not brain death as such – why do you need to stick a tube down his throat to provide air to the lungs? I suppose it is to keep the lungs inflated and avoid more damage. But frankly I would prefer to be brain dead first.

  4. “Slippery slope” isn’t an argument about logic, it’s an argument about people. Think of it as a branch of “behavioural economics” but with more evidence on its side than most of that field.

  5. Serf: if there’s evidence that this particular slippery slope exists, that’s a good argument in favour of its existence, no?

    For sure, you can’t use the ‘slippery slope’ argument on its own. But if you can point to an Actually Existing Slippery Slope and say, ‘Danger! slippery slope ahead!’ then you’ve got a stronger case.

  6. Not with you on this one, Tim. On the one hand, I’m not convinced there’s anything frightening about transplant surgeons pointing out that organs obtained after a carefully controlled, painless, stressless death are in markedly better condition than those that can still be used after accidents, old age, and long-term illness has had a go at them. I’d rather expect them to notice such things.

    Nor do I think that subjective descriptions of the conditions the euthanised were suffering from is necessarily a sign that people are being bumped off ever more casually. Deciding to kill yourself is always going to be largely subjective, isn’t it?

    As for the quote about half the deaths being involuntary, this needs a lot more detail. It seems to be the result of a survey of nurses, 500 who between them assisted in 248 suicides, 120 of which had no recorded, explicit consent. What is not at all clear is how many of those cases concerned patients in comas etc, who were simply unable to give explicit consent. Nor does it give any clues as to whether the Belgian consent process may itself be excluding cases where the patient does want to die.

    Sure, incentives matter, and knowing that pink pair of lungs in the person over there could really help the patient over here is an incentive. But lets get some proper research in, eh?

  7. If I wanted to die, then I should be allowed to (cue: certain commenters’ enthusiastic agreement). It’s surely better for me to do so under a professional’s hands in a clinic than in front of a train or off of a balcony, isn’t it? And yes, one side-effect of that will be that my organs would be usable for other folk, rather than mashed up.

    (unrelated story from when my dad spent a couple of weeks in hospital in the 1970s after a car crash: motorcyclists – as a group, not just the ones on the ward – were referred to by the nurses within everyone’s earshot as ‘organ donors’…)

  8. “I’d rather expect them to notice such things.”

    Oh, me too. But I’d expect them to have the tact, decency and bloody humanity not to trumpet their findings in quite such a cold-blooded manner…

  9. “… motorcyclists – as a group, not just the ones on the ward – were referred to by the nurses within everyone’s earshot as ‘organ donors’……”

    And just how were the nurses referred to..? 😉

  10. “Nor do I think that subjective descriptions of the conditions the euthanised were suffering from is necessarily a sign that people are being bumped off ever more casually. “

    Did you miss this bit?

    “Given that half of all euthanasia cases in Belgium are involuntary”

  11. Ah, no, I see you didn’t:

    “What is not at all clear is how many of those cases concerned patients in comas etc, who were simply unable to give explicit consent. Nor does it give any clues as to whether the Belgian consent process may itself be excluding cases where the patient does want to die.”

    Let me help you out with a tricky ethical question – if you can’t explicitly give consent, it’s MURDER.

    Good grief, ‘well, she didn’t say no!’ wouldn’t be a defence to rape, much less ‘involuntary’ euthanasia!

  12. JuliaM, check the original article:

    “The cases were detailed in a report in a medical journal called Applied Cardiopulmonary Pathophysiology. ”

    Trumpeting anything is not the usual style for reports to scientific journals, and it’s an oddly small audience to choose if you’re looking to show off.

    Rather more likely the telegraphs journos are just being provocative.

  13. @JuliaM

    Don’t be ridiculous, even in the UK sufficient brain damage can justify switching off life-support without the patient’s consent. Do you know how such cases would be classified in Belgium?

    No, neither do I. Which is why I said it’s rather early to be jumping to conclusions. Even the Daily Fail bothers to mention that the report goes on to note that “many were probably acting according to their patients’ wishes, ‘even if there was no explicit request'” so it’s not clear cut at all…

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1285423/Half-Belgiums-euthanasia-nurses-admit-killing-consent.html

  14. Tim,

    Sad to admit this, but I ripped up the organ donor card I had carried for nearly 20 years after hearing the words ‘presumed consent’ emerge from Nicola Sturgeon’s mouth.

    BTW, are Sturgeons farmed?

    Define irony – hundreds of thousands of young British and Commonwealth soldiers lost their lives so that the Belgians could be free. Less than a century later, the Belgians are killing each other for spare parts.

  15. Niels – “Don’t be ridiculous, even in the UK sufficient brain damage can justify switching off life-support without the patient’s consent. Do you know how such cases would be classified in Belgium?”

    It is unlikely to be euthanasia there as we do it here and euthanasia is, for the time being, illegal.

  16. >the Belgians are killing each other for spare parts.

    See? They’re good for _something_.

  17. I believe in the slippery slope arguments.
    Just consider abortion in this country. When the changes were made legalising abortion, we were assured that it was for a few special cases, where the mother’s life was at risk or the foetus was seriously deformed, perhaps in cases of rape; very small numbers, maybe a hundred or so each year in the UK.
    Just look at what has happened; abortion is now mainly used as an accepted means of birth control.

  18. @SMFSubtlety

    Sorry, I think I’m muddling my own argument.

    The Telegraph article quotes the report as saying that 120 out of 248 nurses reported participating in “terminations without request or consent” (over some unspecified period), yet the Mail goes on to say that the report states ‘many’ of these instances ‘probably’ still followed the patient’s wishes.

    If no request is made, or consent given, the only form of ‘wishes’ I can immediately think of is that of a request made via a living will, which the Belgian consent procedures doesn’t seem to allow.

    Sure, legally that’s a crime (though not necessarily murder). Ethically, morally? Possibly, but not convinced.

    Does it suggest a slippery slope passing through nurses bumping off more borderline cases than if euthanasia was illegal? Um, it’s one data point. You can’t even connect it to the annual death rates, as Tim has done (half of the 2% rate of euthanasia), the nurses could be reporting incidents covering their entire careers….

    by the way, this doc offers some more detailed stats:

    http://www.ejcl.org/113/article113-33.pdf

    For Belgium:

    Euthanasia: 1.1%, Termination of life without request by patient: 3.2%

    So not half, then….

  19. It’s at least 15 years since a Dutch fellow I met told me that there were persistent rumors in his country of involuntary euthanasia. He said that the rumors had at least had the effect that people of 50 years or more were wary of going into a hospital and would seek alternatives if at all possible.

    He said he even wondered whether the system itself might not be a source of such rumors–spread in the interest of reducing their workload.

  20. Pingback: Sickening… | Orphans of Liberty

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