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

From: Jim Armstrong <>
Date: Tue Apr 05 2005 - 12:20:02 EDT

By the very nature of the thing, by the time a "slippery slope" is
identified, it is also already populated.

In any case, the idea in your last line is a reasonable bound in my
view, particularly in light of the recent very public case. Perhaps in
time some of these bounds can be (maybe are being?) better established
in the public domain.

jack syme wrote:

> I agree with you about the slippery slope argument not really being an
> argument. That was the point of my post.
> I also agree that we are already part way down that slope, the camels
> nose is well inside the tent.
> The problem with issues like this, imo, is that you cant find any rule
> that will apply to every case. You cant legislate ethics.
> Each case needs to be decided on its own merits. Suicide may be
> justifieable in some cases. It may be justifieable also to force a
> person to accept life sustaining treatment in some cases. There are
> so many variables involved that it is impossible to make broad
> prohibitions.
> This is why these decisions need to be made by those that are directly
> involved. This is why the courts, the lawyers, the judges, the media,
> and the advocates, need to stay out of them.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Jim Armstrong <>
> Cc: <>
> Sent: Tuesday, April 05, 2005 2:13 AM
> Subject: Re: Suicide (was PCA statement on end of life decisions)
> 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.
> Regards
> JimA
> 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 12:22:31 2005

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