Peggy Slater

Peggy was born on 10 June 1914 and died 15 September 2012. Peggy was created an Honorary Life member of the Humanist Society on 15 October 2011. Peggy was a friend of fellow and now departed Humanist members Eileen Bone and Jim Dakin. Peggy was born in Melling, Lancashire and spent some of her early years in an orphanage. She migrated to New Zealand with her husband Viv in the 1950’s. Peggy and Viv had a deep love for each other and sadly Viv, died from cancer in March 1962, leaving Peggy to bring up their three children alone. Peggy joined the Wellington Humanist Fellowship in 1971 and along with present Wellington Humanist member, Frank Dungey, encouraged the group to hold regular meetings resulting in the Fellowship’s growth to 15 members, which ensured that the Fellowship was able to become a Branch of the Humanist Society. Peggy served as Vice-Chairperson from 1974 until 1979 and then as Chairperson from 1979 until 1984. During this time the Wellington branch decided to sponsor a family from Cambodia and over some years helped half a dozen Cambodian families to settle in Wellington. Peggy was the first Humanist Marriage Celebrant in Wellington and officiated at the wedding of one of the Cambodian families. In November 1983, the Wellington branch, in conjunction with the Workers Education Association, WEA, organised a public seminar, The Changing Beliefs of New Zealanders. Humanist annual public seminars have been held yearly ever since, most recently this last September when Professor Jim Flynn from Dunedin spoke to us. In 1984, the Humanist Outlook programme was produced for Wellington Access Radio. This programme, with contributions from various Humanist Society members over the years, is still being produced, on a four-weekly cycle and is aired on a Saturday morning at 10.30am. Peggy also made a huge contribution to the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, which had its origin in the Humanist Society. Peggy’s interest stemmed from watching the suffering of her husband Viv as he died from cancer. This subject was first discussed in 1975 at a Wellington branch meeting. Two years later Peggy, along with Frank Dungey, convened the first meeting of the VE Interest Group, which later became the VE Sub-Committee. This committee recommended that a separate society be launched. The news of this caused quite a media stir and Peggy debated this issue with Father Bonish on the Viewpoint programme chaired by Lindsay Perigo. The Voluntary Euthanasia Society was founded in October 1978, when Derek Humphrey visited New Zealand to promote his book Jean’s Way. Voluntary Euthanasia is currently the subject of a private members bill in Parliament. Peggy was also active in peace groups, along with fellow Humanist Maureen Hoy, and helped with her local Citizens Advice Bureau. Peggy was a member of MENSA and at Humanist monthly meetings was always a lively contributor with her sharp mind and quick wit. In her 80’s Peggy rejoined the Humanist Council, and after retiring continued to enjoy coming to meetings and social occasions Latterly, Peggy became frail and her attendance ceased. Peggy was a great walker and in the Society’s early days formed a walking group of Humanists, who on a Saturday, once a month would walk the many bush tracks in the Wellington area and discuss issues that were of interest. In her 90’s Peggy could still stride it out and manage to ascend the Turnbull House stairs. Peggy’s family arranged at Peggy’s prior request, a special celebration where family and friends were able to share fond memories and farewell our very special Peggy.

Voluntary Euthanasia

Peggy Slater

Some Thoughts on the “Death with Dignity” Bill

This article by Peggy Slater was originally published in 1995 and is reproduced here in her memory.

It was a great disappointment that the Michael Laws Voluntary Euthanasia Bill was thrown out. Even more discouraging were some of the arguments put forward for rejecting the Bill.

The essence of the “Death With Dignity” Bill (not a good name) was “Choice” – primarily for the patient, but also for the Doctor. There were some bizarre opinions set forth, which had little relevance to the Bill. A suggestion put forward more than once in the debate in the House was that the Bill was a licence to kill. Even a cursory reading of the Bill would disprove that allegation. There were many safeguards written into it, and had the Bill been allowed to go forward to a Select Committee it could have been re-written (which was needed), more detailed safeguards could have been included in it, and provision could well have been made for monitoring its application. No doubt those people who most loudly inveigh against the whole idea of voluntary euthanasia will still be alive when it is enacted, and will be in a position to counteract any possible abuse. In all the aeons of time since the universe began, in all the illimitable reaches of space, we on this minor planet of a minor galaxy have, for one brief moment of that time, the inestimable privilege of life – to see, hear, touch, experience, learn about the extraordinary universe we live in, and the extraordinary people we meet.

And then there is the catch cry “we mustn’t play God”. Why not? People play god all the time – doctors when they treat the lives of their patients, judges when they advise a jury or pass sentence, parents when they have children, teachers when they laud or condemn their students, developers when they alter the character of a land’s topography, scientists when they explore and analyse the cosmos. We all at one time or another play God, angel or devil. We can make our own heaven or hell on earth, sometimes for other than ourselves. What’s so special about playing God? If we can ease the life of our fellow man in extremis, is that not a loving, humane and charitable thing to do? What abuse of such a Bill can be worse than the suffering endured at present by people who, being unable to use their lives any longer, and having no prospect of anything but pain or distress, are unable to opt out themselves, or to obtain medical assistance to do so. And is it not part of a Doctor’s vocation, when he can no longer relieve, to give comfort when it is urgently sought? So many death notices used to say “… after a long illness bravely born”. We ease the pains of birth; why is it deemed immoral to ease the pains of death?

And why is death itself regarded so fearfully? Everything in existence is born, grows old and dies – from the Earth we dwell on to the flowers in our garden. Good thing, really, else we’d have standing room only, and there would be no renewal. One might have thought that Christians of all people would have no fear of death in the belief that what follows will be better. In all the aeons of time since the universe began, in all the illimitable reaches of space, we on this minor planet of a minor galaxy have, for one brief moment of that time, the inestimable privilege of life – to see, hear, touch, experience, learn about the extraordinary universe we live in, and the extraordinary people we meet. It seems to me sinful not to make the most, to do the best, with what we have.

But when inexorable death is near, with whatever distress may attend that end, is it not inhuman to decree that the distress should continue to the bitter end, rather than allow peaceful release to those who earnestly wish it.?

Peggy Slater was a Wellington Member, former national councillor and former chairman of the Wellington Branch of the Humanist Society of New Zealand. She is a founding member, acting President and former President of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. She received the Ray Carr award for outstanding services to Humanism in New Zealand in 1993.