Slippery Slope Relating to Health and Medical Care

Understanding a Manipulative Argument Helps Us Make Better Choices

Slippery slope arguments are scary and can convince you to make choices that aren't good for you. Be wary!. Darryl Brooks /

Whenever there is an argument about an aspect of health or medical care, we’ll often hear one side or the other invoke a “slippery slope” argument as a reason against the opposite side of the argument.

What Is a Slippery Slope Argument?

It’s the idea that if a decision is made in a certain direction, it will open the floodgates for the resulting horrors and disasters that never would have happened had the first decision never been made.

  The slope itself is metaphorical – as if taking one step onto that slope will make the victim slide down to the very bottom of a metaphorical pit. The dictionary describes the slippery slope as a chain of negative events that are predicted to result inevitably, step by step, from a first decision.  The Expert in Grammar calls the slippery slope a fallacy in which a course of action is objected to on the grounds that it might turn into something even more undesirable.

Examples of slippery slope arguments, which are always negative, are TV ads produced in 2013 for DirecTV that show how you are doomed to something horrible if you decide to use cable instead of their company to get your TV stations. One ad begins with a man who is upset about his cable company, then makes mistakes at work, so he gets fired, must live under a bridge, and eventually his house explodes. The slippery slope is the argument that if you decide to use the cable for your TV (instead of their satellite system) then your house will explode.

That is quite a slippery slope!

Slippery Slope Arguments Are Irrational and Illogical

Slippery slope arguments are considered by experts to be fallacies of logic.  They are irrational because they suggest that those who are affected by the first decision will have no control over subsequent steps – which of course, is not true.

  There is no logical reason to believe that one step will lead to the next, nor that control is lost from step to step.

These slippery slope fallacies are favorite tools of conspiracy theorists who proclaim that step one will eventually lead to the government taking over the world, or to eradication of society, dooming mankind in some way.  Conspiracy theorists often talk about “they” – never really defining who “they” are supposed to be, except that “they” will one day destroy society as we know it – in some fictional slippery slope fashion.

When used this way by people who have conflicts of interest, they are simply manipulative.  Too many people are too easily swayed to do something that is against their own best interests, but is very good for whomever manipulated them. Those conflicts of interest are usually money or power, and my scaring the rest of us, they get just what they want - that money or that power.

Your goal as a smart patient is to make sure you aren't being manipulated by a slippery slope argument that can actually have a detrimental effect on you and your health.  You'll want to ask yourself questions like:

  • Who benefits by making these claims?  And what do they achieve? (Money? Power?)
  • How plausible are their predictions?  Does it take several steps to get from the current status to the bottom of the slope?  Can the process be stopped at any of those steps?
  • What is the worst thing that can happen if I REJECT that argument?  And what's the best thing that can happen if I reject it?
  • And what's the worst thing that can happen if I ACCEPT it?  (Will I have been manipulated into something that is detrimental to me or my loved ones?)

Health and Medical Care and Slippery Slope Arguments

When arguments arise in medical care, especially those that run up against law or politics, we begin to hear slippery slope arguments against them.

  This is particularly true during election seasons.  Sadly, too many slippery slopes are showcased without presenting alternatives that would work any better.  They are horribly negative, with no suggestion of a more workable positive.

The problem is – in the absence of any sort of evidence a slippery slope is possible much less probable, they scare people, and those people yield rational thought instead of thinking through the real possibilities themselves.  Voters are too easily swayed by slippery slope arguments, as if their houses will explode, too.

In recent years, and with the expanded use of social media, slippery slope arguments can sometimes take on a life of their own.  We find them not just in healthcare, but in many other aspects of the human condition.

Here are some recent examples of slippery slope arguments found in American healthcare:

  1. The medical use of marijuana will lead to a nation of stoners and will doom society.
  2. The use of vaccines damage or kill our children, and will lead to a government takeover of nations of sick people.
  3. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will lead to socialist medicine and death panels and will force all citizens to eat broccoli.
  4. Giving people the right to die will force people to choose death when they don’t want to die.

When these kinds of slippery slope arguments are used to frighten voters, voters then vote based on those contrived scenarios. As a result, government policy becomes affected by them, making them no better than any other sort of fraud perpetrated on the citizenry.

Have you heard an argument that sounds like a slippery slope, but you want to figure out if it’s possibly true?  You, too, can learn to debunk or confirm these types of arguments to help you in your own decision making about whether or not a claim, no matter how outrageous it might sound, can be true.