Re: Suicide (was PCA statement on end of life decisions)

From: Jim Armstrong <>
Date: Tue Apr 05 2005 - 02:13:49 EDT

Another thoughtful post, Jack.
Since you brought it up (for that reason alone, not taking any issue
with you at all!), I want to address the "slippery slope" argument in
general for a moment.

The "slippery slope" argument in general really bothers me. In fact, it
seems to me that the "slippery slope" argument is not really an argument
at all. It is usually essentially an effort to persuade in lieu of
making a sound reasoned case (though the assertion may have strong
emotional caché with respect to persuasion).

In essence, it is a sort of rhetorical trump card, a persuasion device
played to induce worry without engagement in order to influence others
to tighten their resolve to hold a given position in the "game". The
concern, of course, it that a movement to an adjacent square, in an
undesirable direction, will in due course inevitably prove to be only
the first of many more unavoidable moves that end at a new position that
all the players would hopefully agree is unpallatable.

But since the "slippery slope" card is essentially fear-based, more than
logic based, one may easily conclude that the reasons for holding the
present position may well be worrisomely unconvincing on their own under
careful and thoughtful scrutiny (perhaps in the face of emergent
knowledge or capability). For that reason, the playing of the "slippery
slope" card may well be an earmark of a last ditch effort, other efforts
to persuade weakening or even in serious decline.

The projected fear is that someone somewhere will inevitably take a
second step to follow the first. But the very concept of a slippery
slope embodies a lack of identifiable waypoints and markers.
Accordingly, this projected fear would seem to apply to the first step
as well, which in all likelyhood has already been taken by someone
somewhere. More often than not, a good look around will reveal that we
are on the "slippery slope" already (e.g., with respect to many
biotechnology issues, where the genie is out of the bottle).

The playing of the card is also temporizing in nature. In most cases I
can think of in the past (e.g., the beginnings of excursions into the
language of mathematics - the language of God, the attempts to
understand the bases for planetary motion, etc.), the then counterpart
of the "slippery slope" argument ultimately failed. The slope was in
time traversed and marked.

The playing of the "slippery slope" card is in many contemporary cases a
barrier to constructive engagement of the underlying issues. This may be
because we are arrogant in our understanding. It may because we are too
lazy to become informed and do battle with the issues. But often, such
engagement these days would all too often require a reassessment of some
of the foundations of our faith positions, a distinctly uncomfortable
thing to do, particularly for the first time!

If I play the card, I am defaulting away all those squares on the
"Chutes and Ladders" board of life and living. I am saying that neither
I, nor anyone around me, have sufficient foundations to deal with the
complicated and gray-area issues that lie on the squares ahead. I am not
willing to go there and do battle with the issues, and I don't want
anyone else to do so either. I am in effect soaping my own slide. I am
denying the value in participating in the hard work required to
establish new waypoints, with underlying principles, that would suffice
to govern prudent movement on those squares ahead. More to the point,
someone somewhere will be - and probably already is - moving on them,
without the benefit of any "salt" or "leavening" that we might bring to
the discourse. I also run the risk of demeaning those who are hardy
pioneers in others' eyes, perhaps everyone's eyes looking back from
another 50 or so years.

Perhaps more worrisome yet, it's beginning to look like there are
slippery slopes in every direction, including directions in which I must
move because my existing footing is getting increasingly insecure.

Two such directions, with many attendant "slippery slopes" are those
matters involving life and death. Those of us who have faced the issues
surrounding the hospice death of a parent in our home, or who are
dealing with Instructions to Physicians which instrumentally tie our
hands with respect to what life-saving measures we are to allow for a
loved one in failing health, often find ourselves the possessor of an
abruptly nuanced or even conpletely reconstructed view of issues
attending the end of life. Such ready-or-not movement can be tektonic in
consequence, particularly if faith foundations are poorly laid, and if
the "consultants", with all the best of intent, give stunningly
unhelpful counsel.

To those of you who have not crossed this sort of threshold with a loved
one, please be cautious about knowing too much based upon principle. It
is a teacher not to be ignored.

It may be time to view the "slippery slope" card as a different kind of
red flag, begging us to stop and exercise the only viable option we
have, to give serious consideration to the issues involved, INCLUDING a
steely-eyed reassessment of the foundations of BOTH faith and
discipline. How else do we create markers for this previously-untraveled
portion of the slope for those who come behind? How do we know that the
present point and the daunting endpoint are not in fact connected in a
way that, when understood better, make us better stewards or healers,
or agents of grace and mercy, or the biblical imperative of justice?

Jack has sure done many of us a favor in a couple of recent posts,
articulating some of the specific issues in the areas of life and death.
What great starting points for further meaningful discussion. A pastor
recently observed that God reserves only life and death to Himself. We
are certainly on "slippery slopes" of intrusiveness in both areas. There
are clearly positive impacts on life, physical redemption through
prevention and healing, and life extension. But there also appears to be
an accompanying need to find a new balance point that honors God, honors
the individuality he has blessed us each with, and defines some bounds
on excessive proxy ownership of those matters reserved to either or both.

We should talk! ...more.

Be vigilant for those "slippery slope" cards, but be cautious in their use.



jack syme wrote:

> Some of my thoughts on this topic.
> During the discussion regarding the Schiavo matter, I was hoping no
> one would make the statement that we dont generally let people kill
> themselves. Because I was supporting, in this case, the patients
> right to refuse life sustaining medical treatment.
> One argument supporting ones right to refuse treatment, and not to
> allow suicide is based on competency. The argument being that it is
> not irrational or unreasonable to want to refuse life sustaining
> treatment when in a devastating condition. This argument begins to
> break down, when suicide is not allowed, because wanting to take one's
> life is considered, by definition, irrational and therefore the person
> is not competent to make such a decision. This seems reasonable in
> the conditions that we usually think of suicide (young, healthy
> people). But there are many situations where this distinction
> blurrs. There are clearly situations where taking ones life is
> reasonable, and there are situations where patients are allowed to
> refuse life sustaining treatment, even if young and healthy otherwise,
> for example an otherwise healthy Jehova's witness that will refuse a
> blood transfusion.
> I think a more important distinction between suicide and allowing
> death by refusing life sustaining treatment, is the distinction
> between an act of omission, and an act of comission. I have some
> trouble finding a consistent rational argument making a moral
> difference between the two. But they certainly FEEL different. And
> it is nearly universally accepted that patients can refuse treatment,
> but it is almost no where accepted that an act should be comitted to
> hasten somones death. Maybe it is the fear that if things like
> physician assisted suicide become general practice, then it would be
> just one more small step to voluntary active euthenasia, and then
> involuntary active euthenasia. (voluntary passive euthenasia being an
> act of omission such as removing a feeding tube, voluntary active
> euthensia being giving a lethal dose of medication to someone that has
> agreed to it under the circumstances, and involuntary active
> euthenasia being giving a lethal dose to someone that has not agreed
> to it.)
> Certainly most of the suicide cases one can see as being irrational
> and something that shouldnt be allowed, and most of the passive
> voluntary euthenasia cases are ones that are often something that
> should be allowed. But I think there is a spectrum of cases and there
> are instances on both sides in a gray area that it is difficult to
> have a clear rule saying one or the other action is wrong all of the
> time.
> As far as I can tell the moral distinction between the two comes down
> to essentially a slippery slope argument
Received on Tue Apr 5 02:15:53 2005

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