14.17Providing for outdoor cremations is an important aspect of recognising the diversity of rituals for farewelling the deceased in New Zealand. Currently, there are occasional applications for cremation on an outdoor pyre. This is the traditional method of cremation in some forms of the Buddhist faith and some other religions. A medical officer of health may currently give permission for cremation elsewhere than in a crematorium if the applicant belongs to a religious denomination whose tenets require the burning of the body to be carried out as a religious rite elsewhere than in an approved crematorium.
14.18In assessing an application under this provision, a medical officer of health currently follows a set of guidelines drafted by the Ministry of Health designed to determine whether the proposed cremation adequately mitigates the risks. Those risks include:
- offence to any members of the public that might see it;
- effect of smoke or smell on neighbours;
- injury from fire to any person present;
- damage to the surrounding area through the spread of the fire;
- inadequate heat to incinerate the body;
- explosion of devices within the body; and
- failure to reconstruct the site after cremation.
14.19We consider that the ability to have outdoor cremation under strictly controlled conditions is an important aspect of recognising cultural diversity and should be continued under the new statute albeit with several changes from the current system.
14.20First, we do not consider that applications for cremation other than in an approved cremator should be restricted to religious denominations. It should be the sincerity of the application that is relevant rather than whether the motivation is religious in nature.
14.21Second, we do not consider that the majority of risks in such cremations are health risks. Therefore, we propose that the local authority should give consent for such cremation rather than a medical officer of health because the land use concerns are greater than the health concerns. To the extent that health risks need to be addressed, the local authority can take advice from a medical officer of health or its own environmental health officer. This fits with the local authority’s role in controlling the use of land in its region.
14.22Third, there should be greater transparency of the relevant matters for consideration when assessing these applications by including the relevant considerations in the new statute rather than in a document published by the Ministry of Health. We consider the mandatory considerations should be as we describe below. This would not prevent the development of a document to inform local authorities about outdoor cremation, providing detail on outdoor cremation as a cultural practice and the risks that should be assessed in each case.
14.23If it is satisfied that any risks associated with the proposed cremation are small or can be adequately mitigated, the local authority may provide permission. It may make the permission subject to any conditions it thinks necessary.
R76 Any person should be able to apply to the local authority for permission to cremate or otherwise dispose of a body other than in an approved cremator or approved other device. R77 The statute should provide that, when determining whether to grant permission to cremate or otherwise dispose of a body other than in an approved cremator or approved other device, the local authority may consider any matter it considers appropriate, but it must consider:
R78 The local authority may grant permission for cremation or other disposal other than in an approved cremator or other approved device if it is satisfied that any risks are small or can be adequately mitigated. It may grant permission subject to any conditions it considers is appropriate.
- the reasons for applying for cremation other than in an approved cremator or approved other device;
- any risks posed to public health or to the health of any individual;
- any risks to the environment (including any fire bans or the need for resource consent); and
- the views of any neighbours who may be adversely affected.