Cremation: sector overview and policy issues
8.1 In New Zealand cremation is the most common method used for final disposition of a body. An Auckland funeral director believes that cremation “fits with the no frills mentality of Kiwis”. There are no national cremation statistics but an estimated 70 per cent of deceased New Zealanders are cremated each year. One Hamilton funeral director has reported that eight out of 10 funerals are cremations, with cost being a major factor in people’s decisions, while another believes that cremation rates have dropped from about 80 per cent a few years ago to around 70 per cent, with more people now opting for natural burials.
8.2In this chapter we give a brief overview of the cremation sector, describe how it is currently regulated and raise potential policy issues. In the next chapter we consider features of regulatory models used overseas, and set out some preliminary reform options on which we seek feedback.
8.3 In chapter 7 we reached fairly firm reform proposals for the cemetery sector, after extensive preliminary consultation and feedback through the Local Authority and Cemetery Trustees Surveys, and preliminary discussions with government agencies and stakeholders. However, by comparison, our reform proposals for the cremation framework are not as fully developed as we have not yet had sufficient engagement with key stakeholders or the public to confirm our preliminary conclusions. The sector, as we describe below, is made up of a mix of providers, with the Cemeteries and Crematoria Collective being recently established to represent and advise on industry interests and matters. We look forward to further discussion and engagement with the Collective, the industry and the public in identifying and responding to current issues.
8.4Crematoria are regulated through a combination of primary, secondary and tertiary legislation. In this chapter, we ask whether that regulatory framework is fit for purpose. We have focused specifically on the following interests and drivers:
- the dual public and personal interests in ensuring the remains of the deceased are treated with dignity and respect, both during and after the cremation process;
- the public interest in maintaining law and order and the need to minimise the risk of the premature destruction of evidence of criminal wrongdoing;
- the interests of the community regarding the siting of crematoria; and
- consumer interests in having reasonable access to local cremation services.
8.5As highlighted throughout this paper, dignity and respect for the deceased and the bereaved family is a key policy driver. One of the regulatory goals therefore is to ensure that regulatory and compliance standards provide the necessary degree of public assurance.
8.6As well as dignity and respect, some of the policy drivers that we discussed in relation to the cemetery sector in previous chapters also arise in the context of cremation, such as responsiveness to community and cultural demands throughout the process, and environmental sustainability.
8.7The cremation industry also shares some of the policy drivers that operate in the funeral services sector (discussed in Part 2), such as safe and sanitary practices in the handling of the deceased. The provision of crematoria is not restricted to local authorities or public bodies and the majority of the sector is now made up of private providers. This is a feature that distinguishes the cremation sector from the current make-up of the cemetery sector, where public provision is dominant by virtue of the legislative framework.
8.8The cremation and funeral services sectors are becoming increasingly connected because of a trend towards vertical integration. As we discuss below, a significant number of new cremators have been installed in New Zealand over the past five years in conjunction with existing funeral homes.
8.9The sector also has its own unique policy drivers to consider. As the cremation process transforms human remains into ash, with the consequent destruction of DNA and other evidence relevant to the cause of death, regulatory safeguards need to minimise the risk that cremation prematurely destroys evidence of any criminal wrongdoing that may have contributed to the death. Some of these aspects of the regulatory framework have been covered in an earlier Issues Paper.