The slippery slope argument is often used in (bio)ethical debates. It is an intriguing argument: it confronts us with fears, gut feelings, and fundamental values; it invites us to think about the future, and it forces us not only to look at a technology or policy in isolation but at the whole picture. Rhetorically it is attractive with its often vivid images and sweeping statements, sometimes derived from fictional tales. The argument is based on two general assumptions: (1) the slope is slippery, if application of a policy or technology X to area A is permitted, it is not possible to stop, and (2) one will end up in final stage D which should not be allowed to happen. We do not discuss the argument in relation to a specific bioethical problem but use different examples, as we want to focus on some general issues that in our view deserve attention. We first distinguish three uses of the argument: the debate-stopper use, the disqualify-opponents use and the scenario-use, when the argument is used as an invitation to debate by using the end stage D as a possible scenario among other scenarios. We secondly discuss the following questions: can the slope be (made) more or less slippery? Is it possible to stop the sliding on the slope at one or more points? How robust is the evaluation of the final stage D? With regard to the description of initial situation A we point out that the choice of descriptions may not be ethically neutral and stress that it is important to consider the alternatives to allow X in A. With regard to the evaluation of end stage D, we argue, using the example of IVF, that after initial fear and awe people may change their minds on D. We state that critical examination of the evidence is necessary. This involves checking the tenability, the relevance and the completeness of the evidence brought forward in the slippery slope argument, both for the slipperiness of the slope as well as for the evaluation of the end stage. Claims have to be founded, albeit defenders of a slope sometimes seem to presume that this is not necessary, as it 'obvious' or 'self-evident'. We finally point out that there is also a 'road to paradise' or 'stairway to heaven' version of the slippery slope argument. This argument also needs scrutiny. We summarize our discussion in stating that the following questions should always be raised and answered when using or being confronted by a slippery slope argument: Is the argument used as an incentive to have a debate? What are the alternatives to allowing X in the current situation A, and do they not lead to a slippery slope? How strong is the moral evidence for the claim that the end stage of the slope morally wrong or bad? Is the slope really slippery or are there different measures, empirical or logical, to prevent the sliding down?

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Ethics, Medicine and Public Health
Department of Medical Ethics and Philosophy of Medicine

Hermeren, G. (G.), & de Beaufort, I. (2017). The slippery slope, some remarks on the long and winding road to heaven or hell. Ethics, Medicine and Public Health. doi:10.1016/j.jemep.2017.07.008