China / Society

Unclaimed bodies clog morgues, cost money

By ZHANG YI (China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-07 07:53

A lack of regulations relating to the disposal of corpses that are unclaimed or caught up in legal disputes has left morgues clogged with bodies, some of which have been in cold storage for decades.

According to a recent report by Xinhua News Agency, the unclaimed bodies are not only taking up significant space but costing public money to preserve.

The report listed several cities as examples. Every year, there are between 1,300 and 1,400 unclaimed bodies in morgues and funeral parlors in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. In Jinan, Shandong province, more than 80 corpses have gone unclaimed. And in Kunming, Yunnan province, more than 70 are in long-term storage.

The report cited an official in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, as saying the city has around 200 long-term bodies in morgues. One has been in storage for 21 years.

"On average, there are around 10 unclaimed corpses at funeral parlors in every county or city in the region, which doesn't include those left in the morgues of hospitals," Wang Qingmin, an official from the region's Civil Affairs Bureau, was quoted as saying.

The Regulations on the Management of Funeral Affairs, issued in 2012, does not regulate what must happen to bodies that no one claims or those that cannot be buried for other reasons. Because of the lack of laws or regulations, government departments usually choose to preserve the bodies, in case relatives turn up to claim them, Wang said.

The rules stipulate that claimed bodies must usually be cremated, and that the cremations must be carried out after a death certificate is issued by police authorities or a medical facility.

Some of the bodies in storage have been kept because they are connected to unresolved disputes, such as a car accident or medical grievance. Police departments and medical facilities have been cautious about issuing death certificates under such circumstances.

"The cost of storing these corpses presents a huge burden for the funeral parlors and include the cost of refrigeration and facility maintenance," said Zhang Tao, an official at Lianhuashan funeral parlor in Jinan.

One such corpse, which has been kept at the facility for 12 years, has likely cost around 200,000 yuan ($31,000) to store, Zhang said.

"These bodies have also resulted in a lack of available space for the bodies of people who are recently deceased."

Even when local governments have regulations in place about dealing with unclaimed corpses, police authorities have been reluctant to issue death certificates because of the lack of a national law, according to a worker at a hospital morgue in Hohhot, who didn't want to be identified.

"Some police officers dealing with complicated cases in which there are fatalities are unwilling to issue death certificates to avoid being implicated in legal disputes between parties involved the deaths," the worker said.

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