Burials Act in line for an overhaul

The Burial and Cremation Act is one step closer to being overhauled after the Ministry of Health released a report detailing public submissions.

One recommendation was that a 24-hour time limit be imposed on the issuing of death certificates to reduce undue delays.

Ministry director of health Caroline McElnay said there was strong support for stricter rules to remove delays in the death certification process.

"Death certification drew some of the strongest submissions, with a majority of submitters agreeing bodies should be disposed of without undue delays. We are looking at introducing a 24-hour timeframe for death certificates in most cases and expanding the pool of certifying practitioners," she said.

"There was also interest in the idea of auditing death certification to ensure information about how people die is accurate, but also doesn’t cause delays for family and friends to farewell their loved ones."

The ministry acknowledged concerns about whether there were sufficient medical practitioners to meet the 24-hour time limit.

The New Zealand Medical Association argued the 24-hour time limit would be an inconvenience (excluding where required by cultural practices) both to doctors and families when someone died at a weekend or during a public holiday.

One submitter said 24 hours was too long, especially for Maori.

Funeral Directors Association chief executive David Moger believed the time limit would help funeral directors and medical practitioners be more efficient, allowing them to work together to a shared timeframe.

The report showed strong support for establishing a national register of funeral directors and a push for added transparency about funeral costs.

Mr Moger welcomed the support for a national register but stressed that any system must be able to hold all practitioners to account.

The association’s members currently dealt with about 75% of all registered deaths in New Zealand.

Mr Moger said the association’s standards offered a good level of protection to consumers but new businesses would enter the market as the death rate inevitably rose. Without a national register, he feared they would not be held to a similar standard.

"It’s important for us that we have a system that is workable, practical, not too expensive but also one that is effective and if people do not meet the requirements then we believe there should be sufficient teeth in the process to ensure that they are stopped," he said.

He was adamant a national register must be cost efficient as any increased costs would likely be passed on to customers.

He recommended the registrar-general be responsible for establishing the national registration process.

Dr McElnay said the legislation had to be suitable but also adaptable to changing beliefs towards death in this country.

The current legislation only included the traditional methods of ground burial and fire cremation within the scope of body disposal methods.

However, the ministry received submissions from organisations that pushed for new legislation to allow for the regulation of new methods of body disposal.

Many submissions focused on increasing the availability of environmentally friendly alternatives, including composting, alkaline hydrolysis and natural burial.

Mr Moger supported the regulation of new body disposal methods, but said there was currently no framework to decide whether a method was appropriate for use in New Zealand.

It is expected some of the draft legislation will be ready and presented to Parliament by the end of the year. 

Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter