What next when we die up for discussion

SASHA BORISSENKO
Last updated 13:00 27/11/2013

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An unlikely collective of religious, eco burial movement, National Council of Women, Multicultural Council and police representatives have come together to discuss standardising what happens after death.

Representatives of the Law Commission, including former MP, commissioner Wayne Mapp, were at NMIT in Nelson yesterday calling for public feedback on a package of potential burial and cremation reforms.

Among major changes are proposals to open the cemetery sector up to alternative providers, including establishment of eco or natural burial sites and allowing burials on private land under the Resource Management Act.

Lead commissioner Dr Mapp said this was the first time the law that controls where and how burials take place and where the responsibilities fall for those providing the services has been reviewed holistically.

Commission senior research and policy adviser Cate Honore Brett said while the last review took place in the leadup to the Burial and Cremation Act 1964, a lot of the exact wording dated back to the original 1882 Act of Parliament. It was designed for a very different country during a very different time, she said.

The commission had to start from scratch three years ago, as this was the first time an audit of New Zealand's entire burial system took place, she said.

The commission had almost finished canvassing the country for public submissions, she said.

It was an excellent day in Nelson, with great representation of different groups, she said.

Nelson Multicultural Council co-ordinator Evey McAuliffe said New Zealand was becoming increasingly religiously and culturally diverse. It was really good the commission was reviewing the situation to meet the needs of New Zealand's ethnic community within New Zealand law, she said.

Many cultural burial practices conflicted - the Hindu custom of spreading their loved one's ashes into what Maori would consider to be sacred water, for example, she said, adding that it was about having a system that accommodates all people.

She said it was great to see the public sphere attempting to accommodate cultural practices and to see New Zealand taking responsibility, rather than taking a pragmatic approach of yesteryear. Very few people even know of their rights and responsibilities under the current legislation, she said.

"It is not until people are faced with having to dispose of family members that they are first exposed to the situation. It can be very hard to make choices and decisions especially if they are amidst the throes of grief."

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The more planning or policy put in place, the fewer disputes families will have over the burial of their loved ones, she said.

Submissions close December 20, then the commission will analyse the information to create a report to present to Parliament.

- Nelson

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