In a recent commentary ethicist Arthur Caplan discusses the difference between physician-assisted dying (which he finds morally permissible) and physician-assisted suicide (which he finds troubling). He notes that “there are some very disturbing developments” in Belgium and Holland. Instead of having a terminal illness as a trigger, these countries have a different standard: “Are you suffering and is it irremediable?”
Caplan notes, “During the past year, people in Belgium and Holland have been given access to lethal doses of medication by doctors for things like a bitter divorce, losing their job, going blind, and very severe depression. People who are not dying and healthy persons are requesting help in dying from a doctor—and getting it—on the grounds that their life has lost meaning or that they do not want to go on because of their suffering.”
Caplan correctly finds this troubling. I wholeheartedly agree with his warning about the potential slippery slope that America is facing. If the past is any indication of the future, it will not be long before a seriously depressed person files suit challenging a state’s assisted-suicide law, arguing that they too have the “right to die.” Interestingly, however, he offers no solutions to prevent this from happening. Perhaps that is because slippery slopes seldom have off-ramps.
Indeed, those who have argued against all physician-assisted suicide (whether for terminal diseases or deep depression) have often utilized the ‘slippery slope’ argument that Caplan now employs. Opponents of PAD have consistently argued that once physicians move away from their role as healers to the role of assisting in suicide, slippery slopes are bound to follow. Is there any way to reverse a slippery slope?