Chapter 1
What our review is about

The challenge

1.60We began this chapter by describing the universal human needs that determine the way we approach death: the need to respond to the biological reality of bodily decomposition and the need to mourn the dead. Our laws and customs are intended to facilitate both these needs, and are informed by the overriding principle that human dignity requires that the bodies of the recently deceased are treated with respect and the bereaved are free to mourn in the manner they deem appropriate.

1.61However, as is evident from this introduction, alongside these core principles the law must attempt to accommodate an unusually wide range of public and private interests. Often there will be tension between these different interests. For example, as individuals we may have a strong personal interest in fewer legal restrictions over how and where our bodies are buried, but as citizens we also have an interest in ensuring burials do not take place in an uncontrolled and haphazard manner. Similarly, as individuals we may feel we have a strong interest in being able to direct what happens to our bodies after death, but as members of bereaved families we may see merit in a more nuanced and collective approach to such decision making. Finally, as a nation we may have strong interest in ensuring our historic cemeteries and memorials are preserved in perpetuity, but this is only one of the many competing interests our elected local body representatives must juggle when allocating ratepayer funds.

1.62Whether there is a case for reform of our burial and cremation laws – and if so, what shape those reforms should take – will in large part be determined by the input of New Zealanders who take the opportunity presented by this review to express their views on the values and principles they think should inform this area of law.

1.63However, law reform does not take place in a vacuum. In the next chapter we describe the important ways in which our society has changed since our burial law was last reviewed and the relevance of our ethnic diversity for any proposed reforms.