VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA IN NEW ZEALAND
Early societies around the world
The first voluntary euthanasia society in the world was based in London, founded in 1935, and followed by the New York society in 1938. Sweden formed a society in 1973 as did Holland with two groups formed in Australia in 1974 and one in South Africa. Societies were formed in Japan and Denmark in 1976 and the first international conference took place in Tokyo in that year.
In New Zealand in 1978 two organisations were formed, one in Wellington and one in Auckland. Although there had been meetings of interest groups before that the formation of both societies followed a visit to New Zealand in October 1978 by Derek Humphrey from USA who had written a book “Jean’s Way” about the death of his wife.
Peggy Slater of the Humanist Society convened a special interest group in March 1977
The inaugural meeting of the Wellington-based society for Voluntary Euthanasia was at Victoria University in December 1978 with thirteen people present. The committee elected was : Peggy Slater as chair, Frank Dungey as secretary/treasurer, George Canham, Ron Harrod, Patricia Webb, Ruth Charters, Jim Dakin and Jenny Presland.
Professor Lloyd Geering was present and agreed that liberal minded Christians could support voluntary euthanasia with a clear conscience.
1978 ended with the membership of 15 each paying $2 membership per year.
The first newsletter was issued in February 1980, a single sheet. Very soon requests were being received for more information on voluntary euthanasia.
The first meeting of the Auckland VES Society was held in 1978 and incorporation followed in April 1979. Leo Stack was the first President.
The founding committee had among others, Leo Stack (President), Jack Jones, Frank Haigh, Ray Carr, Jim Woolnough, Nina Barraclough and Wynn Chase.
Leo Stack’s Court case in mid-80’s caught the interest and assistance of voluntary euthanasia societies round the world, although there was not much public awareness in NZ until Warren Ruscoe was arrested and charged with the murder of his paraplegic friend and the commuting of his sentence by the Appeal Court echoed public sentiment. Cases brought before Court since then have followed this precedent with the exception of Ms Lesley Martin’s conviction and subsequent prison sentence in 2004.
1994 saw MP Michael Laws introduce his Private Member’s Bill “Death with Dignity” into Parliament. VES Auckland had considerable input into this Bill.
May 1997 saw Marshall Perron, past Chief Minister of the Northern Territory and instigator of the 1995 Bill, touring under the auspices of both the Auckland and Wellington Voluntary Euthanasia Societies drawing large audiences in several centres.
1 July 1996: A very important piece of legislation in New Zealand - the Code of Rights for Health & Disability Consumers’ Rights came into force on this date. Jack Jones, after noticing a short advertisement in the Herald, worked with the then Health & Disability Commissioner in the Code’s wording about Advance Directives. When the Code was finalised it specifically authorised the use of Advance Directives that may be either written or oral.
In 2003 MP Peter Brown’s Private Member’s Bill once again raised hopes but was defeated by 2 votes at the First Reading.
In 2003 the Societies debated, in principle, the setting up of a national organization merging both Auckland and Wellington Voluntary Euthanasia Societies and approved the formation of a steering committee for this purpose.
A Special General Meeting, held on September 18th 2004, approved the proposed merger and, the newly named Society being approved by the Registrar of Incorporated Societies, the Inaugural AGM held on Saturday, 20th November 2004 announced the beginning of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New Zealand (Inc).