Amendment to public health law gives funeral homes the green light to bury unclaimed bodies after two weeks

The Government has taken a legislative step that will enable funeral
homes to bury unclaimed bodies after a specified period: During its
September 19 sitting, the Lower House of Parliament passed the
Public Health (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

Amendments to the legislation mandate that an unclaimed body
cannot be kept in a funeral home or any other authorized facility for
more than 14 days.

Health Minister Sir Molwyn Joseph says it will be the Government’s
responsibility to arrange for these burials when no family member
comes forward to claim the deceased.

To ease the financial burden on the Government, the legislation also
makes provision for funeral expenses to be covered through the
dead person’s estate or his Social Security benefits.
However, in those cases where the deceased’s assets are inadequate,
the Government will step in to cover any reasonable costs.
With dead bodies being kept at their facilities for months and, in
some instances, years, the issue of unclaimed remains has been a
problem for the country’s two funeral homes.
With some families refusing to accept responsibility for their dead
relatives, taxpayers traditionally have been left to foot the expenses
related to the storage of the bodies.

However, since the Government reportedly has amassed huge bills
at the mortuaries, in recent times the funeral homes have begun
refusing to accept a corpse without a relative coming forward to
claim it.

This situation recently resulted in a body being left on an open ward
at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre – reportedly for an entire day –
before it was finally accepted by a mortuary.

Prior to that, reports claim that bodies which were unclaimed
during the COVID-19 pandemic were stored in a refrigerated
container for weeks on end, with some of them beginning to decay
and liquefy after the storage unit malfunctioned.

Some residents tell REAL News they support the changes to the law;
however, they want Minister Joseph to tell them, now, where,
exactly, the bodies will be buried – given the overcrowding at the
existing public cemeteries.