Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell has been quick to apologise for the offence caused by a column in his local newspaper, in which he suggested "a very hard stand" about youth suicide.
The MP for the Waiariki electorate came under fire - and got some support - for suggesting that communities might give practical expression to their "disgust" about suicide by not "celebrating their lives on our marae [but rather burying] them at the entrance of the cemetery".
This was too much for one suicide prevention group whose founder said it was disgusting to suggest suicide victims and their families should be abused.
But Flavell was suggesting no such thing: he was plainly targeting the manner of death - not the dead or the bereaved. He wrote of the pain and frustration of returning from the tangi of a young man who "thought he had ended his pain by ending his life, but instead passed the pain on to his whanau".
Flavell's stand - which, his talkback callers said, some marae have already put into practice in one form or other - may have seemed heartless, but it was full of heart. It may have sounded provocative, but the issue needs provoking. Our record in youth suicide is abysmal and his Maori constituency is particularly afflicted: he wrote in a week in which two children, one 12, one 14, had ended their lives.
The problem is that, as things stand, the self-inflicted deaths of young people are often followed by outpourings of public mourning that look uncomfortably like celebration. To confused and desperate youngsters looking on, the danger is that it all looks terribly romantic.
Anything that we can do to de-romanticise suicide is to be encouraged. And those who don't like Flavell's idea should feel free to suggest their own.
- Herald on Sunday