Jul 27, 2011

Flavell on Suicide

Monstrous comments from Te Ururoa Flavell. From the NZ Herald:

A Maori Party MP has suggested that children who take their own lives should be condemned rather than have their life celebrated - a call slammed as "absolutely disgusting" by a mother whose child took his life. 

In a controversial column in Rotorua's Daily Post newspaper, Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell suggested a "very hard stand" should be made on suicide. 

"If a child commits suicide, let us consider not celebrating their lives on our marae; perhaps bury them at the entrance of the cemetery so their deaths will be condemned by the people," he wrote. 

"In doing these things, it demonstrates the depth of disgust the people have with this. Yes it is a hard stance, but what else can we do?" 

Suicide should be condemned, but Te Ururoa’s suggestion will only compound the pain suicides causes. Punishing the family will not, repeat will not, deter suicide. Suicide is a selfish choice, and by definition, a choice made by the victim and inflicted by the victim. Very rarely do assisted suicides occur, but when they do the response from our criminal justice system is adequate. There is no need to assault the families with cultural shame.

Burying suicide victims at the entrance of the urupa will cause massive shame for the whanau and that shame will continue throughout numerous generations. Denying suicide victims tangi, which was another one of Te Ururoa’s suggestions, will prevent whanau from finding closure and compound the emotional trauma.

Te Ururoa is really scrapping the bottom of the barrel. Yes, no one likes suicide and everyone wants to respond. But this sort of response will not feature in the minds of potential suicide victims. Suicide victims think of the here and now, their ability to foresee consequences or feel and demonstrate empathy is limited.  

Politically speaking, Te Ururoa may be reflecting popular opinion. The suggestion that suicide victims not receive tangi is common. There is a desire to shame the family. I am unsure whether or not this is truly in line with tikanga Maori or a remnant of the sort of Christian thinking that has influenced Maori practise. I am not qualified to say.

We need representatives with fresh minds, not representatives recycling poor ideas from a time gone by.  


  1. I wouldn't call Te Ururoa's views monstrous (unless there is a bit of politicing going on here - hope not). You are right, the view does share comminality with Catholic doctrine which today still says suicides should not rest in concecrated grounds.

    I wonder at how qualified you are to make such a categorical statement as to what will and won't work. You may not like the view, and I certainly share your view that to punish the families is probably going too far. But research does strongly suggest a contagion effect among the young when one of their own suicides. This can be compounded by the sense of 'occasion' a tangi for the suicide can raise in their minds. It can appear to glorify the suicides life and give meaning to the act itself (by some rather twisted logic I accept).

    Having now been impacted by suicides in my own whanau, and understanding the grief and sheer anger it raises, I do understand where Te Ururoa is coming from. All the more so when I see friends of the suicide engaging in, frankly, overwrought acts of grief that feeds upon itself and manifests as celebration of the suicide.

    A suicide is unlike normal tangi. Whilst I have no firm view on this, I do feel celebrating their life is the wrong approach. The focus should be on a life wasted and the devastation the act causes. And in the case of youth suicide - friends should not be invited to engage in acts of 'celebration' and overwrought grief. To arrest the contagion effect, the young should be nothing more than observers of tangi. They should be made overly aware of the disgust of whanau and friends at the act - and told to shut up in no uncertain terms other than to tangi appropriately.

    Appreciate the opportunity to respond - thanks.

  2. Definitely not politicing. He put the kaupapa before his career... he spoke with his heart and not with his head... he is genuine in his desire to address the issue and we admire him for that. We've seen and heard him address suicide at many hui in the past, he's a huge advocate for suicide prevention but never have his views been publicised until this (understandable) mistake. Perhaps now he will be able to get the issue to the forefront. Kia kaha Matua!

  3. I agree that these ideas are dated and definitely detrimental to whanau who lose a loved one to such a fickle death such as suicide. As someone who has dealt/ is dealing with depression, I have genuine empathy for people who feel as if taking their own lives is their only solution. And I see no benefits in condemning their actions by shaming the whanau pani. All power to you Te Ururoa Flavell for being a staunch advocate of suicide prevention, but shame on you for making what I consider to be barbaric and heartless suggestions.



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