It\’s usually identified as a logical error, the use of the slippery slope argument. If we allow X to happen, then Y and Z will follow, with the proposer using as an example of Z something that pretty much everyone will reject. The aim is to gather support for not doing X, of course.
It really only works (in logic that is) when Y and Z really will inevitably follow from X, rather than is usually the case that Y and Z might, but won\’t necessarily.
It was Bernard Levin who rather refined the logical argument, calling it the Fallacy of the Altered Standpoint. It isn\’t that Y and Z will necessarily follow from X, but that if you\’re already allowing X to happen, then it doesn\’t seem that much of a step to Y or Z.
Examples Levin used abound: the original Abortion Act limited the time period that any fetus could be aborted in. Later ones have allowed abortion up to birth itself in cases of severe abnormality to the child. The late 1960s would not have, at least I don\’t think it would have, supported the contention that a 37 week Down\’s Syndrome fetus was not a human being, or rather a being with no rights at all. The 90s, when the law was changed, did.
This isn\’t to say that one view or the other is "correct", only that the latter situation came about only because of the earlier acceptance of abortion itself. A slippery slope, an Altered Standpoint.
Much is made these days of the merits of assisted suicide and one of the arguments, one I\’ve deployed myself, is that that fine line between requesting such assistance and having it forced upon you will be crossed if we do indeed allow the first part, the assisted suicide. This argument is, of course, pooh poohed, it is Tim simply using that logical fallacy, the slippery slope argument.
Mr Tommelein, whose party is a key member of Belgium\’s coalition government, has pledged to bring forward new legislative proposals extending euthanasia to children and old people suffering from such severe dementia that they are unable to choose for themselves.
The old and the mad will be done away with on the grounds that they cannot choose for themselves?
There is a certain dark humour in the next paragraph of the report:
"We will seek, as Liberals, parliamentary majorities," Mr Tommelein said.
Clearly this is "liberal" in the Vladimir Zhirinovsky sense. But how did it come to this, that the vulnerable shall be done away with as simply inconvenient?
There are more than 39 cases of euthanasia declared by doctors in Belgium every month, but the true figure is thought to be double that.
Euthanasia is currently permitted on infants and more than half of the Belgian babies who die before they are 12 months old have been killed by deliberate medical intervention.
In 16 per cent of cases parental consent was not considered.
Well, if you\’re already at the Standpoint that you can and should kill babies without even asking the parents, it\’s not all that much of a leap to kill the mad without asking them, is it?
Slippery slope arguments may indeed often be logical fallacies. Doesn\’t stop some of them being valid though.