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Body taking: tougher law needed for breaches

20 December 2007 Media Statement

Body taking: tougher law needed for breach of protocol

“Procedures around what happens to a person after they die need to be toughened and clarified. And the established protocol for dealing with bodies where cultural factors are relevant needs to be better known,” Wigram MP and Progressive leader Jim Anderton said today.

As Wigram MP, Jim Anderton has been helping the family of James Takamore, who was buried against the wishes of his wife and immediate family. Police received a court order for the disinterment of Mr Takamore in August, but the case remains unresolved.

Jim Anderton is very concerned that the case of Mr Takamore has dragged on, and that new cases are occurring. “No lessons are being learned. The experience of bodies being taken appears to be far too frequent and it is very upsetting to families at an extremely sensitive time.

“The law is clear that it is up to the executor of a will to decide what happens to a body and in the absence of a will, it’s up to next of kin. It can get complicated when there is a dispute within a family. But I am not convinced that these cases are happening where there are disputes between people with rival claims to decide.

“What we are seeing is people who don’t have the right to decide trying to over-ride the wishes of those who do.

“There is an offence against improperly interfering with a body. Taking a body when you’re not entitled to seems to be a breach of that provision. I am seeking an explanation of why we are not seeing enforcement of that provision.

“I would also like to see tougher procedures to ensure a body is not finally disposed of without consent. For example, some person should have to sign a declaration asserting they are lawfully entitled to authorise the disposal of a body. And anyone who makes a declaration without authority should face consequences.

“We need to avoid the awful experience for families of having to disinter a loved one after the body should have been laid to rest.

“There are some cultural issues here, but they appear to arise from a misunderstanding of the protocol. I consulted with noted expert in bicultural issues, Dr Ranginui Walker. He advised that in a marriage between Maori of different tribes, the protocol is for the matter to be determined by negotiation between the bereaved family and the kin who take responsibility for funeral arrangements. In a case involving a pakeha spouse, “the spouse or next of kin has the final say over burial arrangements.” Dr Walker has said.

“I agree with Dr Walker that the protocol needs to be better known.

“I have written to the Minister of Police to ask if she would refer this complex and sensitive issue to the Law Commission for their urgent consideration. A decision is needed as to whether the current law is clear and strong enough, or whether legislative change is necessary to avoid the hurt and anguish which the present situation is causing on too many occasions to be ignored any longer.

ENDS


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