The Registrar-General for New Zealand, Mr. W.W. Cook, in his evidence in chief, stated that he did not favour these suggestions. A certificate of death, he said, cannot be regarded as confidential, as the information contained therein is recorded in the death entry, which may be inspected by the public, and of which a copy may be obtained by any applicant. In reply to questions, however, he stated that the law could no doubt be altered so as to make the death-certificate confidential, the information to be given up only on an order from a Court of justice. Apart from the fact that the insurance companies might object, he did not see any objection from the public point of view.
Mr. Malcolm Fraser, the Government Statistician, said that there was considerable division of opinion on this question at the British Empire Statistical Conference held in London in 1920, when statisticians from all parts of the Empire were present. It was generally agreed that the system was good theoretically, but some doubt was expressed whether in practice there would be as much improvement as was expected, since the system would depend entirely on the medical attendant strictly complying therewith and disclosing the true cause of death in every case. Any system of confidential information always had that failing. The witness thought the register must be open for persons having a right to call for copies of entries. In dealing with insurance claims at death the truth or otherwise of the statement in the proposal form was important, and might require verification by inspection of the death entry. At the Conference Dr. Stevenson, the Statistician to the Registrar-General of the United Kingdom, was very pronounced in his advocacy of the confidential form of certificate. The Conference passed the following resolutions: “(1.) That the present system of open certification tends to prevent candid statements of the causes of death, and thus introduces a systematic error into death statistics. (2.) That the error would be eliminated by a system of confidential certification.”
The Committee, while agreeing that such a system of registration of deaths would undoubtedly afford better means of approximating to correct returns of mortality not only from venereal diseases but also from alcoholism and some other diseases, would point out that, if New Zealand were to adopt the reform while the rest of the Empire retained the present system, the result would be to place the Dominion in an apparently unfavourable light in comparison with other parts of the Empire in regard to the mortality from these diseases.
In discussing this order of reference the Committee desire it clearly understood that these causes are not peculiar to New Zealand, and do not operate more extensively in New Zealand than elsewhere. The Committee are concerned, however, in discussing this question only as it affects New Zealand.