Friday, June 11, 2010

A terrible idea

The past few years have seen several incidents of "body snatching", where family disputes have seen families fighting over and even stealing bodies for burial in their preferred fashion. One case in Northland has seen a coroner propose a radical idea: in order to prevent private body-snatching, we should have government body-snatching instead, with the coroner empowered to seize any body at any time, whether or not it would normally fall under their jurisdiction, and make any orders they see fit for its disposal. This is intended to allow the coroner to mediate in case of disputes, but the net effect will be to override the wishes of the deceased and supplant them with those of the coroner, or family members they may have hated.

This is a terrible idea. For a start, there's no question of legal unclarity. The Coroner's report on the case in question (which I have read) notes that

It is trite law that the executors of a Will are those that have control and authority over the body once it is released to them.
And this is entirely appropriate. The person whose opinions matter on questions of where their meat is to be disposed of, and how, and who may attend is the deceased. If they didn't write them down - and people with strong views should - then it is the person charged with resolving their affairs. Third parties shouldn't be allowed to barge their way in simply because a coroner feels sorry for them, or has opinions of their own about burial practices or family relations. That is, bluntly, none of their bloody business. And it is none of the state's either. Their only proper role in this area is to enforce the rights of the deceased, and nothing more.

The state should keep out of people's bedrooms. It should keep out of their funerals as well. Instead it should respect our right to choose our friends and relationships as we wish, and not try and intrude. No matter how well-meaning, the intervention of coroners in these sorts of disputes is still tyranny, and still unwelcome. They should mind their own business, and keep the hell out of ours.