When one argues against an idea or action, one form often used is called the slippery slope argument. In a slippery slope argument, one takes a consequentialist view on the action in question, then extrapolates the further outcome sometimes based on evidence, sometimes not. For example, I might argue that my teacher should not eat chocolate ice cream, because of two reasons: Eating chocolate ice cream stimulates pleasure centers in the brain, and eating chocolate ice cream causes weight gain. Stimulating pleasure centers in the brain can easily become an addiction.
The conclusion I reach is that if my teacher became addicted to chocolate ice cream it would only be a matter of time before he could not teach me, since he would be trapped in his bedroom, grossly overweight, watching Oprah and eating pint after pint of Ben & Jerry’s. It is easy to see that while the two initial reasons are valid, the predicted outcome has no data to support it. Sometimes slippery slope arguments are very valid, and point to logical outcomes, and other times they manipulate the argument and point to groundless doom. Peggy Noonan presents us a slippery slope argument in relation to the case of Terry Schiavo.
Noonan state that “When a society comes to believe that human life is not inherently worth living, it is a slippery slope to the gas chamber. You wind up on a low road that twists past Columbine and leads toward Auschwitz. Today that road runs through Pinellas Park, Fla. ” In taking apart the quote, we can see that Noonan subscribes to a Vitalistism point of view. This means that she believes human life to be inherently worth living, that it has an intrinsic value. This point of view is opposite of a ‘quality of life’ philosophy. A quality of life view is one in which a person feel that human life has an extrinsic value, that life
without any meaningful returns can be morally ended. Anther thing to note is that the first phrase of her statement is absolute. There is no definition of human life, no standard. From this we must assume she means every breathing human body, no matter how lifeless and inanimate, falls under her vitalistic view. In the second part of the statement she draws a very dire and extreme conclusion. By referencing gas chambers and Auschwitz, she is clearly stating that by executing humans in vegetative states, the allowances for euthanasia will escalate into a system where millions of humans are killed en masse.
Surprisingly this conclusion does have historical evidence to lean on. In 1920 a book was published in Germany titled The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life, by Alfred Hoche, M. D. , a professor of psychiatry at the University of Freiburg, and Karl Binding, a professor of law from the University of Leipzig. They argued in their book that patients who ask for assisted suicide should be able to have it from a doctor, under spelled out rules. The book also proposed to extend these mercy killings to others, such as those with brain damage, some psychiatric conditions, and mental retardation.
This philosophy was embraced by Hitler and many in the German medical community. By 1938 mentally disabled children were being killed through starvation or exposure. By 1941, euthanasia was a common medical practice throughout German hospitals. The public was slowly acclimatized to the idea of mercy killings, and in just 20 years the idea was implemented to its chilling maturity. Noonan’s argument is that Americans of today are much like the Germans of 1930.
We don’t think about the potential, the direction that an action such as killing Terri Schiavo takes our society. It seems compassionate and right in the moment, but history shows us that while this case is about a vegetative human, the next candidate might not be quite so vegetative. Noonan’s argument is compelling as an in-depth discussion, examining history and human nature. As a sound bite, it is horrible. It comes across extreme and inciteful. Her reason is valid, but the reason cannot be delivered in one short paragraph.