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St. Paul's Collegiate
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5 Jun 2014 32 Respondents
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By David Seedhouse
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POLL OF THE DAY: ASHES TO ASHES?

POLL OF THE DAY: ASHES TO ASHES?

Should families be free to scatter ashes of loved ones in public places or should there be restrictions and even charges to do so?

In recent times not only has there been an increase in people opting for cremation over burial there has also been an increase in the sorts of locations for the scattering of ashes.

The NZ Herald reports that "Auckland Council wants to prevent people from scattering ashes in any public place - including beaches and reserves - unless they have written approval from the council or Wahi Tapu Maori Kimiti (a Maori committee that oversees sacred areas)." www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11267752

There is also debate about whether the council would charge the public for this approval. This suggestion has upset many people as the scattering of ashes is seen as an important part of the grieving process.

The reality is though that in some cases the idea of “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust..." is actually having a harmful impact on the environment.

For example The Guardian in the UK has reported that several beauty spots have become so popular that restrictions have had to be put in place to limit pollution.

"Last month, staff at the Jane Austen House Museum in Hampshire discovered piles of human ashes scattered around the novelist's home and gardens, and football grounds, rivers, parks, golf courses, lakes, rivers and mountain tops have all become favourite remembrance spots.

"The Mountaineering Council of Scotland and Welsh conservationists have asked relatives to avoid going to mountain tops because the phosphate added to the soil from the cremated bones can overstimulate plant growth. Football clubs, including Manchester United, have stopped the remains of fans being put on their pitches. Manchester City, along with many European clubs, have now built a memorial garden to save their grass." www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/jan/18/cremations-ashes

In New Zealand environmental concerns have arisen in the Far North where members of the public have been scattering ashes at the foot of the giant Kauri tree 'Tane Mahuta'. The tree, estimated to be in the region of 1500-2500 years old, is not only at risk of the effects of high phosphorous levels in cremated ashes but that the increase in foot traffic is putting the ecosystem at risk with the potential for harmful diseases to enter the area and affect the forest.

An added complexity is that while many wish to scatter ashes in places of significance these places may well have spiritual significance for other groups who may find the scattering disrespectful or objectionable.

For example Maori elders in the Far North have expressed concern at this growing practice.

The NZ Herald reports that: "Kaumatua Garry Hooker said he doubted bereaved families meant to cause offence by dumping the ashes under the giant tree, but the practice was objectionable to iwi."

"He said the concept of human remains being mixed in an environment where cultural food harvesting of aruhe, nikau, kumarahou, watercress and other plants takes place was abhorrent to Maori, and demeaning to the deceased." www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10739786

So how do we balance the needs and beliefs of different cultural groups? How do we balance spiritual and environmental perspectives?

Has the Auckland council come up with a pragmatic solution that enables people to grieve within the bounds of environmental and cultural safety or is this just unnecessary bureaucracy?

What do you think?

Image: www.billingsgazette.com
It is proposed that families should be free to scatter cremated ashes of loved ones in public places.