Just because an economy as a whole does not grow it does not mean that no activity whatever increases. For example, there are now 4000 professional tattooists in France whereas ten years ago there were only 400. And in neighbouring Belgium last year the number of cases of euthanasia grew by a healthy 27 per cent (no pun intended). It does seem odd that in Belgium they could kill 1807 people painlessly last year while in the United States they don’t seem to be able to execute a single murderer painlessly. Whether this reflects better on Belgium or the United States I leave it to the reader to decide.
Nearly three quarters of the Belgians killed at their own request suffered from cancer, but there were one or two aspects of the situation that lend plausibility to the argument of the slippery-slopers, that is to say those who oppose euthanasia because they fear the creep of medicalised killing. In one particular triumph of modern medicine, for example, a sex-change operation that went wrong caused the patient such psychological torment that he begged to be put down and his request was acceded to. Talk about burying your mistakes!
In addition, some Belgian doctors are now agitating for an extended power of decision where euthanasia is concerned. They want to be able to dispose of patients when they judge that their lives (those of patients, that is) are no longer worth living. Voluntary euthanasia will then be compulsory. In England I can just imagine a Euthanasia Manager patrolling hospital wards and deciding that someone who has been waiting several hours in the accident and emergency department needs, deserves and will benefit from a hospital bed more than its present occupant.
‘Life unworthy of life’ was the phrase the Nazis used, and it was used long before they came to power, by a jurist, Karl Binding and a psychiatrist, Alfred Hoche. I remember being on a train once with an elderly German doctor who asked me what the world would have said if it had been Germany rather than the Netherlands that had introduced – or re-introduced – euthanasia.
This, of course, is a rhetorical rather than a logical argument. There is, moreover, no reason in strict logic why a slippery slope should always be slid down: all change is the beginning of a slippery slope to some undesirable extreme or other.