In Loving Memory

Funeral Flowers

Transporting a body

The law governing burial and cremation in New Zealand is outdated and rather unsatisfactory, but as it stands it permits anyone to act as a funeral director. That is, to arrange a funeral and transport a body.

Transporting a body yourself

Part 7 of the Health (Burial) Regulations 1946 governs the handling and transportation of dead bodies. Like most of the NZ legislation concerning death, it is patchy and outdated, and appears in this case to be directed at professional funeral directors. However there are some requirements which apply to everybody.

Collecting a body from a mortuary

Regulation 38 requires a dead body to be removed from a mortuary "in a coffin or other suitable receptacle of a kind usually used by funeral directors." The purpose of this seems to be to ensure that a body is not "on display" while being transported. However you do not need a hearse or any other particular type of vehicle in order to move a body, and no special licences are required. Anyone with a valid driver's licence can do it. The mortuary should have a gurney you can use, but do not count on staff being able to assist you. Make sure you bring a couple of people with you in case you do need to move the casket manually.

Transfer of charge of body form

When picking up the body from a mortuary you will be asked to sign a Transfer of charge of body, which the mortuary will supply. This is basically to ensure that they don't release the body to someone they shouldn't. Have some ID (such as a driver's licence) available, as you will be required to show authorisation, as well as to view the body to identify that you are picking up the correct one.

Interestingly the DIA's brochure Before Burial or Cremation states (on page 8):

"When a body is moved from the place of death, the person in charge of the body is required by law to sign a Transfer of charge of body (BDM39)".

This appears to be derived from Section 46F of the Burial and Cremation Act. However, I can see nothing in that section which requires anyone to sign anything unless they are "transferring charge" of a body to another person. If you are in charge of it yourself, because you are the next of kin, or you are the person arranging the funeral, I don't see how it can apply to you. However it would probably pay to carry a copy of the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death with you when you are driving a body around.

As an aside, Section 59(1)(i) of the same Act provides:

"The Governor-General may from time to time, by Order in Council, make regulations...prescribing fines...not exceeding 50 pounds...and, where the breach is a continuing one, not exceeding 5 pounds for every day or part of a day during which the breach has continued."

I leave it to the reader to contemplate how worried he or she should be about any of this.

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Practical considerations

There is no legal requirement to line a casket or coffin, but there is a requirement to disinfect any soiling in a vehicle that has been fouled by discharge from one. Bear in mind that any body discharge or moisture from ice packs etc may cause glue to soften and give way. So even though it is not a legal requirement it makes sense to use a liner of some kind, as well as some absorbent material like a towel, blanket, or newspaper. All this is common sense really.

As a general rule it is wise not to move or handle a body more than absolutely necessary, especially as time goes on. It is possible to clean and dress a body before it is removed from a mortuary (special rooms are provided for this purpose) and obviously if the person is at home this can be done wherever they are. It is wise to put them in a casket and begin the cooling process as soon as possible. Cold air sinks and therefore will remain in the casket instead of flowing away from the body if they are simply on a bed.

A large stationwagon or a van is probably the most practical vehicle to use for transport. A body can break wind and make various noises as it is decomposing. This may be more likely to happen during transport, so it is wise to restrain the casket as best you can while you are driving. As with any load being transported make sure that the casket is secured. These noises coming from the casket or coffin can be disconcerting if you are not expecting them!

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Transporting a body using a transport company

Trucking companies and couriers normally will not transport caskets or coffins containing deceased persons. Funeral directors will, but at a substantial price (eg $3 per km). So the cheapest and most efficient option is probably to drive the person yourself. A casket with a body in it can be taken on the ferry with no special declaration (or ticket) required.

Airlines refer to the transport of a deceased person in a casket or coffin as "human remains". There are considerably more requirements to be met for international air transport than for domestic air travel.

Due to very stringent requirements regarding the preparation and packaging of human remains, Air New Zealand will only accept them for transport from funeral directors, NZ District Health Boards or the New Zealand Police. However, anyone can pick up human remains from the destination cargo depot.

Domestic air transport of human remains

Air New Zealand does not require a body to be embalmed for domestic flights. Click here for more information.

International air transport of human remains

The technical term for the international return of human remains is repatriation. Repatriation can be a complicated process as each country has its own regulations and procedures that must be followed, as well as international rules that must be complied with. For international flights the body must be embalmed, sealed in a casket that meets international shipping regulations, and also accompanied by the correct documentation. The casket travels in the cargo hold of the aircraft.

It is beyond the scope of this website to advise on repatriation. I have been told that travel insurance may or may not cover it, and that pre-paid funeral plans generally do not. An interesting article which will give you an idea of the complications involved can be read here.

Transport of ashes

There are various methods for returning ashes, which include air freight, courier service or as hand luggage. Customs requirements for the importing or exporting of ashes can be found here.

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