Disposing Dead Bodies
Disposing Dead Bodies
The dead bodies of human beings are not property. The dead bodies of human beings are not disposed of by a state’s statute of descent and distribution. If a person does not leave directions in a will or other document for the disposition of his or her dead body, his or her dead body is usually disposed of as provided by local custom. Even then, sometimes a person’s survivors cannot agree about how the dead body is to be disposed of (e.g., two “wives” appear) and the decision must be made by the local probate court.
Death and its Documentation
Most states have the same basic procedures in the event of a person’s apparent death.
As a general rule, where there is a body, a person is not officially dead until he or she is “pronounced dead” (i.e., pronounced to be dead) by a doctor of medicine. Accordingly, dead bodies are usually taken by ambulance to a hospital where a doctor pronounces the person dead. Especially in large cities, police and fire departments sometimes have employees who are doctors. They can efficiently pronounce people dead at the scene of a crime or disaster.
The doctor signs the official death certificate that, unless challenged, serves as proof of a person’s death. Death certificates are usually kept on file with the local health department.
Coroner or Medical Examiner
If a person dies unexpectedly, suddenly, or violently, the law provides for an examination of the person’s dead body, known as an autopsy, for the purpose of determining the cause and manner of the person’s death and for the collection of evidence, if necessary. The person who makes the examination is usually known as the coroner or medical examiner. The coroner or medical examiner is usually required to be a medical doctor. Ideally, the coroner or medical examiner is an expert in the areas of pathology and forensic medicine.
After death is pronounced and after any investigation is made by the coroner or medical examiner, a dead body is usually turned over to a licensed funeral director. The death certificate requirement, the licensing of funeral directors, and zoning law usually combine, as a practical matter, to prohibit a relative or friend from simply burying or burning a dead body in the back yard. Any disposal of a dead body in a non-customary way is usually challenged and the matter ultimately decided by the local probate court.
Customary Disposition of a Dead Body
The customary disposition of a dead body is by burial or cremation. If a person dies at sea, or if a special request is made, burial may be made at sea. A person may also specially request donation of his or her body to science.
Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.