Until confronted with death, few of us are likely to give much thought to how the law affects how we farewell a loved one and deal with their remains. When faced with this necessity, we often lack the energy or time to consider the ways in which these laws influence the choices available to us with respect to mourning, burial, cremation and memorialisation.
New Zealand’s foundational burial statute was passed in 1882. Māori had also established tikanga, or customary laws and practices, to ensure their dead were treated with respect and that the mana of the deceased and their connections to whenua (land), tūpuna (ancestors) and whānau were reinforced.
Evidence of similar values and impulses can be found in the many historic cemeteries established by European settlers during the 19th century and the memorials to the dead erected within them. These cemeteries are important repositories of our heritage and yet today their preservation often depends on the efforts of volunteers.
This review provides us with the first opportunity in our country’s history to assess holistically whether the law is meeting our needs and expectations when it comes to how we approach death and the services and options available to us for the care and final disposition of human remains.
The terms of reference for the review extend well beyond the matters currently provided for in the Burial and Cremation Act 1964. The Act’s framework has remained fundamentally unchanged for over a century. In that time Parliament has enacted numerous statutes that impact on our burial law and the management of cemeteries. Foremost among these are the Coroners Act 2006, the Historic Places Act 1993, the Reserves Act 1977, the Local Government Act 2002 and the Resource Management Act 1991.
Our cultural landscape has also changed dramatically. These changes can lead to new tensions and may require innovative approaches in order to accommodate the range of public and private interests. For example, our society places particular emphasis on personal autonomy and the right to self-determination, but alongside this there is a growing acknowledgment of the place of tikanga Māori and the importance of connections to places and people. Irrespective of their ethnic origins and ancestry many New Zealanders share these values and are looking for ways to affirm their own connections to the land when they die.
This Issues Paper provides the basis for a well-informed public conversation about these matters. We hope New Zealanders from all walks of life will take this opportunity to help inform the development of our laws in this important and sensitive area.
Sir Grant Hammond