Undertakers and state or local government employees who supervise cases involving an individual who dies in a hospital, nursing home or other institution have a responsibility to make “reasonable efforts to contact relatives of the deceased or other persons who may wish to claim the body for final disposition,” according to state statute.
If a body remains unclaimed for 10 days, “the person having possession shall notify the Commission of Anatomy.”
The Commission of Anatomy was established in 1975 by the N.C. General Assembly and charged with ensuring a sufficient number of human bodies for the study of anatomy in the state of North Carolina. The Commission also oversees the disposition of unclaimed bodies.
The 10-day time frame can be shortened by a county director of social services “upon determination that a dead body will not be claimed for final disposition within the 10-day period.”
If the Commission of Anatomy declines to receive a dead body, the person in possession must inform the director of social services of the county in which the body is located “and arrange for prompt final disposition of the body, either by cremation or burial.”
Reasonable costs of disposition and of efforts made to notify relatives and others are considered funeral expenses. If they can’t be paid from the decedent’s estate, “they shall be borne by the decedent’s county of residence,” the statute states.
If the person who dies is not a state resident or the county of residence is unknown, then the final expenses are paid by the county where the death occurs.
LaVaughn Nesmith, director of the New Hanover County Department of Social Services, says that the county averages about 10 cases a year. There were eight in 2009 and four to date in 2010, Nesmith says.
Many of the deceased handled by the county are not without family.
“There could be family members who won’t pay for the funeral or sign for it. They won’t claim the body,” Nesmith says.
The county has a contract with Andrews Mortuary in Wilmington to cremate unclaimed bodies at about $450 each, Nesmith says.
The remains are scattered at sea “as needed,” says Andrews Mortuary Funeral Director Duane Howlett. There is no accompanying ceremony.
Howlett says Andrews Mortuary processes about 10 such cases a year. “We just help (the county) as a public service,” he says.
Willed body donation programs have been established at each of the four medical schools in North Carolina – UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, East Carolina and Wake Forest. The Commission of Anatomy provides oversight to each program and guidance in the establishment of other programs in the state that use human bodies for education and research, including Fayetteville Technical College’s program in mortuary science.
For information about donating one’s body to science, go to www.commissiononanatomy.ncdhhs.gov/donate.htm
Date posted: February 15, 2010
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