23The public may also be surprised to learn that currently anyone is entitled to set themselves up as a funeral director or crematorium operator. No formal training is required and there is no legal requirement for funeral directors or the operators of crematoria to belong to a professional body or to be subject to an independent auditing or complaints process. (Most funeral directors are, in fact, professionally trained and voluntarily comply with the standards set by their own industry body, the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand.)
25As the sole providers of public cemeteries, local authorities are able to decide where cemeteries are established and how they are managed. The Act also empowers them to dictate matters such as when and how burials may take place, the rights of those who enter into contracts for burial and the type of memorials permitted. Local authorities also have complete discretion as to whether different ethnic and religious groups are permitted to establish special areas within the public cemetery.
26The choices bereaved families make about funeral and cremation arrangements are often similarly constrained. Although there is no legal requirement to engage a funeral director, have a body embalmed, or purchase a coffin, the reality is that very few cemeteries or crematoria deal directly with the families of the deceased. Often families do not feel equipped to prepare the body for burial, and as yet there are few alternatives to embalming for those wishing to delay burial and cremation to allow for a tangihanga (funeral rites) or other commemorations of the deceased’s life.
27However this has not always been the case and, for reasons we explain in chapter 2, may not be the case in the future. In some ethnic and religious communities it is vitally important for bodies to be prepared according to custom by members of their own faith. Some also have a desire for a simpler and more direct approach to death and burial, which may involve alternative methods of preservation before a simple interment in a shroud or biodegradable coffin.
28At the moment it can be difficult for those wishing to tailor funeral and burial services to their own requirements to do so because few providers are willing to unbundle their services and access to alternative forms of interment such as eco or natural burials is limited.
29In this Issues Paper we examine the strengths and weaknesses of the current law and practice and put forward our preliminary proposals for reform.