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June 29, 2011

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Home » Metro » Health and Science

Morgues grapple with bodies

LOCAL hospitals and funeral homes are calling for an improved law to help resolve a dilemma in which over half of mortuary drawers are occupied by unclaimed bodies, leaving little space for new dead patients.

The unclaimed bodies have imposed a strong financial burden, causing a waste of public resources, hospital officials have complained to Shanghai Daily.

Zhongshan Hospital said its mortuary has 36 drawers, with 15 of them stocked with unclaimed bodies for more than a year. The earliest body has been there for 12 years!

A similar situation can be seen in other hospitals across the city. In some worst-case scenarios, families of dead patients have had to fight for spots in hospital mortuaries, doctors said.

"It costs a lot of money for us to keep these bodies every year," said Chen Huifen, a Zhongshan official. "A mortuary has to be kept cool under certain temperature and conditions, and our staff also have to take care of it.

"Families are charged 6 yuan (93 US cents) per day for keeping a body of their loved ones but we can't charge anyone for unclaimed ones. We don't know how to deal with unclaimed or unidentified bodies as there are no special laws or regulations to follow."

Unclaimed bodies in hospitals include patients who are delivered by ambulance or police after traffic accidents or suicides and bodies that families deliberately don't claim due to various reasons like medical disputes or property problems.

Officials from the Shanghai Funeral and Interment Trade Association said they, too, were facing the same problem, with the unclaimed bodies placing financial and managerial burden on local funeral parlors. About 70 percent of mortuary space at funeral parlors is also occupied by such bodies.

Accidents are one of the major sources of unclaimed bodies. Sometimes the victims are seriously injured or mutilated, making it difficult for police or other departments to identify them or find their families.

"We hand over the bodies to the civil affairs department once the case is ruled as an accident," said a police officer. "They take care of the rest of the procedure regarding the body."

However, officials of the city's civil affairs authority also talked about the difficulty in dealing with such bodies.

"Though Shanghai has a regional rule allowing funeral parlors to cremate nameless bodies 15 days after receiving them, no one dares to do so for fear of disputes, which did take place," said Wang Hongjie, secretary general of the association.

Wang cited an instance when a funeral parlor cremated a body after it was not claimed for a long time. But the family of the victim came looking for the body and then demanded compensation from the parlor. "The present rule has loopholes and we want the government to issue a stricter regulation and help solve the problem."


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