Volume 23, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2003
Theo A. Boer
After the Slippery Slope
Dutch Experiences on Regulating Active Euthanasia
"When a country legalizes active euthanasia, it puts itself on a slippery slope from where it may well go further downward." If true, this is a forceful argument in the battle of those who try to prevent euthanasia from becoming legal. The force of any slippery slope argument, however, is by definition limited by its reference to future developments which cannot empirically be sustained. Experience in the Netherlands—where a law regulating active euthanasia was accepted in April 2001—may shed light on the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the slippery slope argument in the context of the euthanasia debate. This paper consists of three parts. First, it clarifies the Dutch legislation on euthanasia and explains the cultural context in which it originated. Second, it looks at the argument of the slippery slope. A logical and an empirical version are distinguished, and the latter, though philosophically less interesting, proves to be most relevant in the discussion on euthanasia. Thirdly, it addresses the question whether Dutch experiences in the process of legalizing euthanasia justify the fear of a slippery slope. The conclusion is that Dutch experiences justify some caution.