Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-7nm9g Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-09-25T13:09:11.151Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Where is the argument for the conceptual slippery slope?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

John M. Clifford*
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, North Wales. Email:
Rights & Permissions [Opens in a new window]


Copyright © The Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2017 

I do concur with the position laid down by Brendan Kelly Reference Kelly1 in commentary on the paper by Verhofstadt et al Reference Verhofstadt, Thienpont and Peters2 and his conclusion that ‘we should not kill our patients’. However, one argument he has surprisingly not used is that of a ‘slippery slope’. In particular, Beauchamp & Childress Reference Beauchamp and Childress3 specify two versions of this argument. The psychological–sociological one is well-known and is often cited as an argument against euthanasia. However, the conceptual slippery slope is by far the more dangerous and is exemplified here so succinctly. In Verhofstadt et al we have ‘unbearable suffering’ as a concept leading almost effortlessly and uncritically to the euthanasia of psychiatric patients who have no terminal disease. What is so shocking is that this is no sterile philosophical debate: it is in action in a European country and has led to patient deaths. This subjugation demonstrates the biggest risk in the euthanasia debate and should be actively resisted.


1 Kelly, B. Invited commentary on: When unbearable suffering incites psychiatric patients to request euthanasia. Br J Psychiatry 2017; 211: 248–9.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
2 Verhofstadt, M, Thienpont, L, Peters, G-JY. When unbearable suffering incites psychiatric patients to request euthanasia: qualitative study. Br J Psychiatry 2017; 211: 238–45.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
3 Beauchamp, TL, Childress, JF. Principles of Biomedical Ethics (4th edn). Oxford University Press, 1984.Google Scholar
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.