Palliation and Medically Assisted Dying: A Case Study in the Use of Slippery Slope Arguments in Public Policy

In David Boonin (ed.), Palgrave Handbook of Philosophy and Public Policy. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 691-702 (2018)
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Opponents of medically assisted dying have long appealed to ‘slippery slope’ arguments. One such slippery slope concerns palliative care: That the introduction of medically assisted dying will lead to a diminution in the quality or availability or palliative care for patients near the end of their lives. Empirical evidence from jurisdictions where assisted dying has been practiced for decades, such as Oregon and the Netherlands, indicate that such worries are largely unfounded. The failure of the palliation slope argument is nevertheless instructive with respect to how slippery slope arguments can be appraised without having to await post-facto evidence regarding the effects of a proposed change in public policy. Close attention in particular to the norms operative in a given institution and how changes to policy will interact with those norms enable slippery slopes to be credibly appraised.
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