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Researchers: No factual support for ‘slippery slope’ argument (27 September 2007)

27 September 2007

Researchers: No factual support for ‘slippery slope’ argument

Vulnerable people are not at risk from legalised medically assisted dying research published by the Journal of Medical Ethics finds.

The research, based on an analysis of data from Oregon (USA) and The Netherlands, where medically assisted dying is legal, provides evidence that the “slippery slope” argument, which is often used by anti-assisted dying campaigners, is not supported by evidence.

Dignity in Dying, the leading organisation campaigning for patient choice at the end of life, has welcomed this research.

Ashley Riley, Head of Campaigns and Communications at Dignity in Dying, said, “This research produces significant and important results, showing that there is no evidence to support the ‘slippery slope’ argument that is commonly used by anti-assisted dying campaigners. This reaffirms what Dignity in Dying has always said; that medically assisted dying can only act as a positive factor in patient choice at the end of life.”

Anti-assisted dying groups state that legislation of medically assisted dying for the terminally ill would make it easier to end the lives of those affected by social prejudice, whose capacities for decision making are impaired, and those who have been socially conditioned to believe that they are less worthy of care.

The research provides evidence to the contrary. Four government sponsored nationwide surveys conducted in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2005 were used to gather this evidence in the Netherlands and annual Department of Human Services reports from 1998-2006 were used in Oregon.

The authors of the report said, “[The evidence] shows that there is no current factual support for the so-called ‘slippery slope’ concerns about the risks of legislation of assisted dying – concerns that death in this way would be practised more frequently on persons in vulnerable groups.”

Ashley Riley concluded, “This independent research is a major breakthrough in teaching people about the positive benefits that assisted dying legislation could have on patients at the end of their lives. We believe everyone deserves the right to a dignified death and the options should be in place for them to do so. It is time to start basing the assisted dying debate on facts. It is important that we move away from the scaremongering tactics that have so often been used to oppose greater patient choice.”


Only a very small number of people actually request a medically assisted death in Oregon. Only 292 people have used the method since it became legal in 1997. The strict safeguards in place in each separate location have ensured that only people who are terminally ill and enduring constant unbearable suffering have been able to use the legislation.

Of these patients, there was found to be no evidence of biased against any vulnerable groups, including the elderly, ethnic minorities, disabled, women and the poor, with a proportionally small amount of patients falling under this criteria. Research from Oregon even found that people aged 18-65 were three times more likely to receive assisted dying than those over 85.

For a full copy of the report, please contact Jessica Tomlin on 020 7479 7736.



Article details:

Legal physician-assisted dying in Oregon and the Netherlands: evidence concerning the impact on patients in vulnerable groups, Journal of Medical Ethics 2007; 33: 591-7


Margaret P Battin, Agnes van der Heide, Linda Ganzini, Gerrit van der Wal, Bregje D Onwuteaka-Philipsen

About Dignity in Dying:

Dignity in Dying is the leading organisation in the UK that advocates assisted dying for terminally ill patients. The organisation is also the country’s leading provider in information on end-of-life issues.

Dignity in Dying has over 100,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.

Opinion polls consistently show that at least 80% of the UK population support a change in the law on assisted dying.

An interview with Ashley Riley is available to download at <>.

Media contacts

Dignity in Dying:

For all media enquiries, please contact Jessica Tomlin on 020 7479 7736 or 07725 433025 or on

Margaret Battin, Department of Philosophy, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Tel: +1 801 359 1970 or +1 801 581 6608; Mobile: +1 801 824 9160
Email: <>