Marae protocol may change if euthanasia legalised

Māori are being urged to consider how legalised euthanasia might impact cultural protocols during funerals.

In the past, some marae refused to hold tangi or funerals for those who had died by suicide or had opted to be cremated. 

Despite opposing the End of Life Choice Bill, a Gisborne priest is leading calls for Māori to be prepared for how they'll deal with those who die by euthanasia.

For Māori, strict tikanga or protocols must be followed when dealing with the dead.

Funeral director Te Hira Henderson says cause of death can influence what is said at a tangi or funeral and even where someone is buried.

Dealing with those who die by euthanasia presents new challenges.

"We have not had that discussion yet so it is unchartered grounds," says Mr Henderson.

Act MP David Seymour's euthanasia bill passed its first reading last month.

Gisborne Reverend Chris Huriwai thinks the bill will be passed, and while he's personally against it, he wants Māori to figure out where they stand on the issue and whether ceremonies need to be changed.

"That needs to be sorted out before you have a body at the gate of your marae," Reverend Huriwai says.

"For example the karanga, the call that goes out to welcome mourners and the body back home onto the marae, changes in the format of that may need to take place."

Māori customs are evolving, and there can be differing views on what was original Māori practice and what's been influenced by Christianity. 

Green MP Marama Davidson says historically, Māori did sometimes practise euthanasia.

"Similarly as we had a form of abortion using herbal concoctions and so forth, we also had a form of assisted dying."

Because protocols are not universal, it would be up to each marae to decide on theirs.

Talks are also going on within the church about their approach to euthanasia, according to Reverend Huriwai. 

"What does it mean if we're praying for healing knowing that this family will be at say five o'clock tomorrow are going to decide to euthanise their loved one." 

Others who are knowledgeable in tikanga say in the past marae have refused to hold tangi for those who have died by suicide or been cremated. 

It's hoped having the debate now about the impact of euthanasia on cultural practices will ensure similar issues won't be a problem if assisted dying becomes legal.