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about us

Death Without Debt

Our website's bellbirds are in honour of those that kept Betty Wheeler company, fluttering outside her window in her last days in the winter of 2019.

Betty, a woman who devoted much of her life to community service, was denied the affordable, dignified, community-organised funeral she wanted by a negligent medical system and ruthless funeral directors. You can read an account of the extraordinary dysfunction her funeral process uncovered here.

When Betty’s son started digging into why the system had failed, he found almost everyone involved in the pre-cremation and pre-burial process had unthinkingly defaulted to the funeral industry’s commercial interests. The dysfunction extended well beyond the medical profession and their staff, deep into the public service, local councils, to hospice and beyond. Few, if any, of these people were profiting from their behaviour but none were prepared to take responsibility. 

One of Betty’s friends, the widely-respected former leader of the Green Party, Jeanette Fitzsimons, contacted the family when she heard about their ordeal and the disrespect they had encountered. She alerted them to a review of Burial and Cremation legislation. The Review had begun with the Law Commission and was now being conducted by the Ministry of Health.  And so Death Without Debt was formed.

The first phase of the campaign to make dying more affordable began in 2020.

We found both the Law Commission and the Ministry of Health (MoH) had neglected to look at why the funeral industry enjoyed a captive market.

Death Without Debt negotiated with the MoH to have these, and other vital issues included within the scope of the review.  As of October 2023 the MoH have provided no assurance they understand or care about these fundamental concerns and repeatedly fail to show up for scheduled consultation as directed by the Minister of Health.

Death Without Debt is working with Community Law, the Salvation Army and other organisations concerned with human rights and poverty. All our work is voluntary and we have no financial interests in the funeral process. We welcome the support of individuals and organisations.

Our aim is simple:  To ensure everyone has the right to an affordable and dignified funeral process.

We dedicate our work to the memory of Betty Wheeler who deserved better and to all those individuals in Taupo and Turangi's medical community whose indifference brought to light a national disgrace.




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