Editor’s note:

The article below, contributed by Philip Tomlinson, author of the book Arranging a Funeral:  What Your Can Do  Yourselves – A New Zealand Guide (reviwed at this link http://www.naturalmedicine.net.nz/news/arranging-a-funeral-what-your-can-do-yourselves-a-new-zealand-guide/ discusses the current review of laws and regulations concerning burials and cremations.  This is a chance for people to have their say about appropriate and respectful care for the dead and to advocate for  families to be able to choose the funeral, burial or cremation options that they feel most appropriate for the deceased, taking into their personal, religious and cultural beliefs.

 

In early October, the Law Commission launched a national review of burials and cremations. The media has suggested potential sweeping changes.

Submissions are invited (and are due by December 20, 2013) and our fundamental human rights will hopefully be preserved.

The Commission has sympathy for the public and to some degreee, I tend to foresee funeral freedoms being furthered rather than fettered. The Commission’s deliberations are too vast to detail here and the book delineating them costs a whopping $65, so it is not light weekend reading.

This article then, outlines some key points …

First, the background. For years we have had about 30,000 deaths annually in New Zealand but with baby boomers aging, an additional 20,000 deaths are soon to be expected. Cremations were increasing and had became twice as common as burials but a recent significant swing contrariwise has drawn attention to burials and therefore to land usage issues.

Commercial funerals are changing. Mourning is now a ‘celebration’, rituals and items – often multimedia presentations – have entertainment polish and at times applause, catering even draws in strangers and a money focus extends to collections for charities. Under shadows cast by expensive American funeral models, we are subconsciously signaled to restrain tears, walk in while attendees are told to “stand” for us, survive the ordeal – and then pay for it. Is it any wonder overseas interests are stealthily purchasing private funeral businesses?

Times are changing. In our declining Christian culture, other religious funeral rites and preferences are emerging. While embalming is routinely and falsely promoted in the name of ‘hygiene’, eco-burial thinkers and many others too, question air pollution from cremation and soil contamination via burial grounds.

This background is incomplete without mentioning our rising funeral bills.

In the last year or two, the average funeral cost has not been publicised by the FDANZ on its website. The undisclosed industry pricing leaves consumers distraught: To require an urgent individualised service without an open price ticket, they are left at the mercy of the market.

The many-fold direction of the review needs summarising. The 1964 Burial and Cremation Act is now half a century old. There are issues of culture and religion in what is now our 200 different ethnic groups.

The funeral industry has attracted scrutiny. Today’s complex family structures, legally frail “last wishes” and easily contested wills raise contentions currently considered at High Court cost, when better measures to prevent them and simple Family Court resolution proceedings could be far more appropriate.

The main question I have been asked about the review, is whether the funeral industry is secretly behind it, seeking greater investment return. From my investigation, there are strong elements of a ‘no’

answer here: the Law Commission’s incisive call for industry price disclosure for example is certainly not a commercial initiative.

However, the industry is not silent so we need to frame  relevant submissions.

The issue of industry licensing being discussed for example, is worrying.

Most ‘licensing’ provides very little real consumer ‘protection’ and over longer terms tends to give the big boys a big hand. Licensing could cunningly be used to restrain competition, the very thing we need to retain to reduce funeral costs.

Other issues are under the spotlight. Will burials on private land be allowed? Will independent cemetery owners emerge? Will we retain our freedoms to run family funerals our own way? Will  the issuing of death certificates be tightened up and if so, will they still be issued promptly?

And so on.

So far, I am impressed with the preliminary work that the Law Commission members have already done and I hold genuine hopes that their final direction will produce positive policies. They appear to want transparent and flexible commercial funeral costs. They appear to want continued freedom for family funerals to be run the way we choose to run them and to recognise our fundamental human rights to bury or cremate our dead as we choose.

As I see it, should you want to make a submission to The Law Commission, these are some of the prime issues:

To facilitate informed decisions, it should be mandatory for the industry to provide detailed price structures of all options, in all components, for all funeral services. As many components of many funerals can be handled by the family, it should be illegal to demand bereaved families purchase ‘undefined’ full funeral packages. Overseas ownership of funeral premises should be fully and immediately transparent. No regulations should be passed to obstruct family-run low-cost home-based funerals. An official non-commercial website should be available, with clear, concise and correct information on the legal and/or medical requirements for all burial and cremation options.

I believe that if we ask for consideration, we will tend to be given it. The wall of silence is ready to fall, family funerals are slowly emerging and it is no loner a sin to look outside the square. As a nation, if we continue to refuse to discuss death, wait until a bereavement occurs and then rush our deceased family members into professional hands, we can only expect potential exploitation as the additional 20,000 deaths annually feed the hunger of multi-national funeral businesses that present themselves as “your friendly funeral director”.

The Commission is happy to receive our submissions in three different ways:

1) by hard copy posted to Burial Review, Law Commission, PO Box 2590, Wellington 6011

2) by soft copy e-mailed to burialreview@lawcom.govt.nz

3) via their online form that is available on their official website,

http://www.lawcom.govt.nz/project/review-burial-and-cremation-act-1964/issues-paper/34

 

Submissions need to be in by 20 December 2013.

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