The funeral sector
16.21Embalming is the process of preservation of the body by the injection of disinfecting and preserving fluids into the arteries. This acts to delay decomposition of the body. Initially when embalming was offered in the late 19th century, it was promoted as a public health measure to prevent the “obnoxious odours” of death and reduce the effect of that on grief. Funeral directors quickly embraced embalming, seeing it as a way to further professionalise their industry.
16.22However, embalming is now promoted as a means of sanitising, preserving and presenting the body so that family and friends can spend time saying goodbye to the deceased person. Embalming is particularly used when the deceased person is Māori and the body will lie for several days on a marae as part of the tangihanga.
16.23The practice of embalming became widespread in New Zealand from the 1970s after the establishment of the New Zealand Embalmers Association (NZEA) in 1971. Initially, embalming was reserved for bodies that required transportation between towns and cities. Today, around 90 per cent of deceased bodies are embalmed. It is noteworthy that embalming is a requirement of airlines if the body is to be repatriated overseas for burial.
16.24However, there is also some indication of an emerging trend away from embalming. People who are motivated by environmental principles may choose not to preserve the body or to use alternative preservation techniques, such as dry ice.
Legislative obligations on embalmers
16.25The Health (Burial) Regulations 1946 are the main requirements specific to embalmers. In addition to general requirements about the handling of dead bodies, the Health (Burial) Regulations provide some very specific requirements covering minimum standards and inspections for mortuaries.
16.26Another key piece of legislation is the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996. That Act controls the handling and storage of hazardous substances, including many of the chemicals used for embalming, which can be flammable, toxic and corrosive.
16.27Membership of the NZEA is open to individuals who hold a recognised qualification in embalming practices or equivalent experience. The Association focuses on training and professional support for embalmers. Members’ conduct is governed by the Code of Ethics and the Code of Professional Conduct.
16.28Similar to funeral directors, a Level 5 NZQA-accredited diploma is available for embalming, despite it not being compulsory to hold a qualification. This qualification is also conducted by FSTT, takes 12 months to complete and requires the applicant to be employed as an embalmer before undertaking the course. Thirteen embalmers graduated from the course in 2014.