“Sensitive incineration” – definition please?

Guest post by Tim Morris from the ICCM

“Sensitive incineration of Pre-Term Babies”

Is this a valid option for bereaved parents alongside burial and cremation? Believe me, it has been accepted in some quarters. If you are a bereaved parent or of a sensitive disposition, I apologise for any cold technical and legal terms used however they are in use, I mean no offence.

The Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management has opposed the option of ‘sensitive incineration’ as an option for the disposal of pre-term babies, on the grounds that such a thing does not exist.

When the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) consulted on the disposal of pregnancy remains following pregnancy loss or termination in March 2015, the ICCM made its position very clear. Is adding the word ‘sensitive’ an attempt to make the disposal of babies as clinical waste sound acceptable? The (re)introduction of incineration was a surprise when the HTA Guidance was published, as the year prior to this, 2014, the then Health Minister had branded the practice ‘totally unacceptable’ and ordered it to cease – see here.

Scotland, ahead of the game at present in matters of burial and cremation and the disposal of the dead, banned the sending of lost babies to incineration plants in 2012.

Well done Scotland.

Having attended various events and gatherings, and more recently speaking at the Child Funeral Charity seminar just a week ago, I have taken the opportunity to ask those gathered if they could describe sensitive incineration. To date nobody has, not even the HTA and organisations that have supported it.

Whist it could be understood and accepted that some women might not want any recognition for their baby, whether miscarried or aborted, the suggestion that it would be their wish to have no record of nor recognition for their baby does not follow. There will always be a record at the hospital or clinic on medical files, and the hospital or clinic would need to retain a signed consent form, plus the record of waste transfer to the incinerator (in the form of a waste transfer note required under waste management legislation) is yet another record in the chain of events. In other words an audit trail.

If the final act takes place at a crematorium or cemetery, a hospital or clinic record will be maintained albeit the name of the mother being substituted with a case number in order to maintain confidentiality required under the Abortion Act if the mother so desires. No record of the mother would be held at the cemetery or crematorium, hence confidentiality maintained. Whilst there might be audit trails in respect of incineration, burial and cremation the overriding fact is that parents are not revealed and confidentiality is maintained. Recognition of a lost baby could only be given or not by parents.

Anyway, an attempt at a description of sensitive incineration comes via the HTA Guidance that suggests that these babies should be placed in a container and not with other clinical waste, and that a minister of religion could accompany the container (yellow plastic bag??) on its journey and to its end.

It also suggests that these babies are incinerated separately from other clinical waste. Is this possible in a commercial, continuous, industrial process? Could someone explain? The ash, even if it could be separated from the ash produced from the burning of other waste, would surely not be respectfully scattered in a pleasant area of grounds but will be dumped in a landfill site.

I really feel for those hospital staff that might be required to attempt to describe sensitive incineration alongside descriptions of burial and cremation. Perhaps some might refuse? Perhaps some bereaved parents will be shocked into making complaint? Time will tell. Perhaps hospital managers should visit both crematorium and incineration plant and draft a truly accurate description of the process observed at each in an attempt to help their staff?

Note Clause 5.3 in the Royal College of Nursing Guidance

The MoJ published its response to its consultation on review of the cremation regulations on 7th July, just last week. The review was required as it was evident that action was required in light of the Baby and Infant Cremation Investigation Reports, the Commission report in Scotland, and the Emstrey report in England. It was music to our ears as the Institute had long since campaigned to bring the cremation of fetuses into regulation. The first Institute policy statement issued in 1985, (yes 1985!) entitled ‘Fetal Remains, an IBCA policy statement’ was basically an attempt to cease sending pre-term babies to waste incinerators (Note that IBCA is the former title of the Institute). At that time, all babies born prior to 28 weeks (now 24 weeks) gestation and showing no signs of life, were consigned to the incinerator. Only stillborn babies had recognition and were either buried or cremated. Various legal and ethical arguments for and against cremation of pre-term babies were aired at that time, including the fact that fetuses have no legal status and that an attempt was being made to turn crematoria into waste disposal sites. Whilst fetuses still have no legal status today and the vast majority of crematoria will cremate them, the fact that cremation is technically unlawful has been avoided by government in England and Wales until now.

Good for Scotland and Lord Bonomy for recommending the regulations of the cremation of fetuses in 2014 in his Report of the Infant Cremation Commission, the Scottish Parliament bringing the regulation of Baby and infant cremations into a new Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 and hence leading England and Wales along the same path.

There is a big difference though. Incineration is banned in Scotland yet condoned in England and Wales.

The Institute stuck to its aim and reviewed and revised its policy and guidance on the Sensitive Disposal of Fetal remains over the years and numbers of burials and cremations slowly increased so perhaps incineration decreased.

Not surprisingly the MoJ response includes ‘definition of ashes’ in its list of items to be dealt with, as this was the fundamental issue in at least three of the inquiry etc. reports. The response also speaks of an inspector of crematoria and statutory forms and register, the latter two items being the masterstroke of Lord Bonomy in bringing the cremation of fetuses into regulation. At last.

The only part of the MoJ that was not music to our ears was reference to ‘sensitive incineration’. The mention of sensitive incineration mirrors the view of the (HTA) that it should be an option for bereaved parents alongside burial and cremation. I don’t recall that this option was discussed in the MoJ consultation. The spectre of sensitive incineration exists and has been reinforced.

So back to basics:

Can anyone describe the sensitive incineration of babies?

Why is sensitive incineration being given a push?

Are the words of the Minister ‘totally unacceptable’ made in 2014 being ignored?

The Institute’s description of sensitive incineration is ‘disposal at a waste incinerator that conducts a continuous, industrial process in accordance with waste management legislation’. Any advance on this or perhaps a more ‘sensitive’ description?

Has the word ‘sensitive has been highjacked?

Finally, are we are supposed to be a sensitive and caring society? Seems that Scotland has the lead on this as well.

Does death really matter so little?

Citizens of the UK have no statutory right to bereavement leave. Momentous as the event of a death may be, it is not reckoned to be of sufficient magnitude to enjoy equal rights with birth. Says a lot about our cultural attitudes to mortality, doesn’t it? 

There’s currently an e-petition calling for a legal right to take time off work in the aftermath of a death. It’s passed the 10,000 mark, triggering a response from the government. This is what they say: 

The death of a family member is deeply upsetting for those involved and the Government would expect any employer to respond to such situations with sensitivity and flexibility. However, the Government believes that all requests for leave related to bereavement are best left for employers and their employees to decide between themselves. The Government has not legislated for bereavement leave in any situation and there are no plans to introduce a specific right to support bereaved parents/relatives. In doing so we would be obliged to put in place limits, standards and definitions. The amount of leave needed can vary from one individual to another, and defining what family relationship would qualify for such leave, would be difficult, as it would be impossible to legislate for every circumstance. Whilst there is no specific right to “bereavement leave”, all employees do have a day-one right to “time off for dependants” which allows them to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with unexpected or sudden emergencies, including when a close family member dies. Time off will cover arranging and attending the funeral. Employees who exercise this right are protected against dismissal or victimisation. The right does not include an entitlement to pay. The decision as to whether the employee will be paid is left to the employer’s discretion or to the contract of employment between them. The Government hopes that employers are as sympathetic and flexible as possible in responding to employee requests for time off, particularly when bereavement is involved. This e-petition remains open to signatures and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.

There may be flaws in the government’s argument. The statement “defining what family relationship would qualify for such leave, would be difficult” applies equally to birth, doesn’t it? It isn’t difficult at all. 

You can sign the petition here. I hope you will. It won’t make the slightest bit of difference in the short term. We have to play the long game with this one. 

Here’s a reminder of the present status quo: 

Maternity leave

As an employee you have the right to 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave making one year in total. The combined 52 weeks is known as Statutory Maternity Leave. 

Paternity leave

As long as you meet certain conditions you can take either one or two weeks’ Ordinary Paternity Leave. You can’t take odd days off and if you take two weeks they must be taken together. 

Compassionate leave

If you are an ‘employee’, you have the right to unpaid time off work to deal with emergencies involving a ‘dependant’ – this could be your husband, wife, partner, child, parent, or anyone living in your household as a member of the family.  

When a dependant dies, you can take time off to make funeral arrangements, as well as to attend a funeral.  

Politics and funerals

A topical post from our religious correspondent, Richard Rawlinson

Timed to counter the low turnout of voters at the mayoral and local council elections last week, did you catch the BBC advertisement challenging political apathy by chronicling how so many everyday activities–from the fat count in our sausages to the safety of cyclists on the road–are politicised?

Despite the mid-term anti-Government vote that brought some good news for Labour and disappointment for the Tories, and especially the Lib-Dems, Londoners of my acquaintance are relieved to see Boris returned, and the defeat of tax-avoiding, gaff-prone has-been Red Ken.

But how does politics–local and national–impact on the funeral business? Healthcare clearly affects death tolls, and the economy the lot of small businesses such as independent undertakers. Here are five more, big and small, issues with which local councillors might perhaps busy themselves:

How shall we avoid traffic disruption by town centre funeral processions?

Can we empower the police to hose down those awful ‘God Hate Fags’ protesters who upset the bereaved at private funerals?

How can we secure more land for cemeteries?

How can we placate believers in man-made global warming by making cremation more eco-friendly?

How can we tackle the class war issue of inheritance tax and death duties?

Please add some meat to the bone of this shamefully skeletal list.   

Green Light For Tower of Silence In English Seaside Town

Posted by Charles

In a move which is sending shockwaves through an English tourist resort, council chiefs in Weymouth, Dorset, have given the go-ahead for followers of the Zoroastrian religion to expose the bodies of their dead in the midst of sunbathing holidaymakers.

The down-at-heel, bucket-and-spade seaside town has granted the Zoroastrian Council of Great Britain (ZCGB) controversial planning permission to build a Tower of Silence in a prominent position on its historic seafront. 

 Zoroastrians believe that dead bodies pollute the earth. When they die, their bodies are placed on raised platforms, more correctly known as dakhmas, where they are exposed to the elements and birds of prey. The Weymouth tower will stand 300 feet high and the dead will be brought up to the platform by means of a lift in the central column.

Although the dead bodies will not be visible from the ground, some Weymouth residents are up in arms about the scheme.

Single mother Tracey Brockway said “It’s  disgusting. The whole town will be covered in flies. How can anyone lie on the beach knowing what’s going on up there? As far as I’m concerned this is the last nail in the coffin for Weymouth.”

However, most Weymouth residents are in favour of the tower. In common with many seaside resorts, the town’s tourist trade has been in decline for decades and many have rallied round the council’s initiative.

Weymouth and Portland Borough Council’s brief holder for Leisure and Tourism, Peter Traskey, said: “Traditional tourist streams are drying up as people increasingly holiday abroad. We need to diversify, and we see multicultural funeral tourism as the future for our town.”

Mr Traskey also gave credence to reports that the council is in discussion with the Hindu community to establish a burning ghat on the quay recently vacated by Condor Ferries. The River Wey is currently undergoing an elaborate consecration process. 

The council is even considering a scheme submitted by the Natural Death Centre to hold spectacular Viking funerals in Weymouth Bay in a Viking longboat made of steel which can be re-used after each open-air cremation. “I think it’s a great idea,” said Traskey. “We are right behind this initiative.”

The RSPB is supporting the Weymouth Tower of Silence. RSPB spokesperson Jonathan Taylor told us, “We anticipate that the region’s dwindling cormorant population will boosted by this important food source.”

Mel Stewart, landlady of the Bon Repos boarding house, told the GFG, “This town has been on its backside (actually she said arse) for years. When the Olympics are over, what will there be for us? I’m doing a complete ethnic refurb and re-naming my place Memories of Mecca. I’m advertising my full Zoroastrian breakfast and funeral teas. These people are going to be a shot in the arm for the local economy.”

Local police chief,  Inspector Richard Honeysett, told us: “We are seeking permission from the ZCGB to detain unconscious drunks and drug addicts on the tower overnight. When they come round and find themselves surrounded by dead bodies it’s going to be a wake-up call for them. “

Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion of the ancient empire of the Medes and Persians until it was displaced by Islam. Its devotees found a safe haven in India. The 2010 Census revealed that the number of worshippers in the UK stands at roughly 350,000. 

Weymouth was made famous by King George III, who holidayed there throughout his reign. It is distinguished by its fine Georgian and Regency architecture, and by its public lavatory, which still sports a cannonball fired into it by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army.

The town is held in low esteem by its rugged and dynamic neighbours, the inhabitants of the Isle of Portland, who have never reconciled themselves to their local government partnership with Weymouth, and are holding themselves aloof from the tower initiative.

A salt-caked island fisherman commented, “This tower they’re all talking about — they’re clutching at straws, aren’t they? I’ll tell you what I think of the council. It’s a council of despair.” 

Ahura Massada, a spokesperson for the ZCGB, said, “We have been searching for a site for a Tower of Silence for many past years. On every occasion we have come eyebrow to eyebrow with prejudice. But the people of Weymouth have enfolded us in their bosom, and we thank them from our hearts.” 

In July and August this year, Weymouth will host the Olympic 2012 sailing events. The Tower of Silence is planned to open on 1 April 2013.

Die to let

In Dorset a woman has been billed for £3,000 because her father negligently failed to give his care home 28 days’ notice of his own death. Full story in the Daily Mail here

Keep calm and carry on

Posted by Charles

There is a tendency among some visitors to this blog vastly to overrate the significance of death. How salutary it is, therefore, to remind ourselves that our legislators keep mortality both in perspective and in its place.

Maternity leave

As an employee you have the right to 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave making one year in total. The combined 52 weeks is known as Statutory Maternity Leave. 

Paternity leave

As long as you meet certain conditions you can take either one or two weeks’ Ordinary Paternity Leave. You can’t take odd days off and if you take two weeks they must be taken together. 

Compassionate leave

If you are an ’employee’, you have the right to unpaid time off work to deal with emergencies involving a ‘dependant’ – this could be your husband, wife, partner, child, parent, or anyone living in your household as a member of the family.  

When a dependant dies, you can take time off to make funeral arrangements, as well as to attend a funeral.  

If you need time off to cope with a situation that doesn’t fall under the ‘time off for dependants’ right, you may have a right to time off under your contract of employment. Many employers will have a scheme for compassionate leave and details should be included in your contract or company handbook. If the situation is not covered by any scheme then you can still ask your employer for the time off, although they do not have to agree to your request. 

Source: directgov.co.uk

“You’re born alone, you die alone and in between you cheat yourself out of that realisation as agreeably as you can.” Robert Lenkiewicz

Posted by Rupert Callender of the Green Funeral Company

Claire and I spent the last day of August At Torre Abbey on the seafront at Torquay, seeing an exhibition called Death and the Maiden, featuring the work of the painter Robert Lenkiewicz.

To the uninitiated, Robert was a flamboyant Plymouth based artist, instantly recognisable by his clichéd, spattered smock and leonine mane of hair and beard, a look it has to be said he could carry off well.

 A chronic self-mythologiser and an equally chronic womaniser – Plymouth is populated by swathes of his ethereal, largely unacknowledged children – Robert died in 2002, penniless due to his refusal to ever actually sell any of his work, but somehow managing to accumulate one of the finest if darkest libraries in the world. Whole shelves were devoted to suicide or masturbation, volumes bound with human skin, medieval grimoires, which he obtained through all sorts of nefarious means. Needless to say, death dominated.

He operated from a series of warehouses that he rented for next to nothing, right on the harbour front in the Barbican, the only part of Plymouth to escape the Nazi bombers, and it was here he could reliably be found, bathed in a hanging pool of light with a beauty draped across his lap not quite swathed in scarlet, always seemingly his own muse, the model as mere accessory. Frequently pretentious, endlessly priapic, sometimes fascinating, but often deeply predictable and annoying. An artist in other words. His main talent was for survival through infamy.

Having been raised in what amounted to a hostel for survivors of the holocaust, Robert was always drawn to the disenfranchised, and during the seventies, turned one of the warehouses he rented into a functioning doss house, offering the homeless and mad of Plymouth shelter in return for immortalisation by painting. He formed many deep friendships with these down and outs, mainly men, most of them professional post war gentlemen of the roads, seasonal, travelling alcoholics, not the teenage crack whore runaways that horrify our times. At times there were up to 200 in there. Places of simmering violence and laughter, drink and dance, skilfully lorded over by Lenkiewicz.

 One of these, Edwin Mackenzie, whom Robert christened Diogenes due to finding him living in a concrete pipe at Plymouth dump, became a close friend and he painted him over and over again. When Edwin died in 1984 he bequeathed his body to Robert to do with as he saw fit. He had him thoroughly embalmed in the style of Lenin, and due to some typically slippery evasiveness on his part (when asked by the registrar whether he was due to be buried or cremated, he replied “He is not to be buried”) managed to keep him quietly for a while somewhere in his studio.

 After a month or two, the authorities turned up asking why he had not been cremated. There followed a grand stand off involving the police, public health officials and of course the media, and a lengthy examination of some very interesting and pertinent questions, such as who owns a corpse, is it a ‘thing’ or a ‘possession’, and does a body actually have to be disposed of at all. 

The answer was no, it just has to not cause any health issues, and yes, it is a possession, in this case belonging to Robert. He successfully argued that there are something in the region of 1,500 corpses of varying antiquity exhibited around the UK in various museums; was it the freshness of Edwin that made him a body and not a mummy?  Good questions, art at its best, but it infuriated Plymouth City Council, whose history of dour puritanism had already had to deal with his louche image, not to mention the irritation caused by him faking his own death in 1981, and his highlighting of such uncomfortable civic issues with projects on things such as vagrancy, suicide and death.

Robert stubbornly hung onto Edwin’s body until his own untimely death aged 60 in 2002. It is a small irony that Edwin actually lived 11 years longer than Robert, seemingly on little more than air.

When Robert died in 2002, he had £12 in his possession, and owed his creditors over 2 million. 7 years later, lawyers valued his possessions at just over 7 million.

In the ensuing tidy up, literal and metaphorical, of his affairs, Edwin Mackenzie’s corpse was found in an artist’s drawer, still in remarkably good nick, and it was to see what the receptionist had described as ‘a pickled tramp’ that we had come for, rather than Robert’s somewhat predictable sexual paintings; skeletons humping girls from behind like dogs, bony fingers piercing amniotic bags of life, grinning skulls performing cunnilingus, wombs and breasts and ribcages.

What Robert himself said about Edwin’s body is what has struck anyone who has spent time with one: “ the total presence of the corpse and the total absence of the person,” the reason as undertakers we encourage people to return again and again to the body of those they love, to get it to sink in: they are not there. Somewhere, nowhere, everywhere maybe, but definitely not here.

He saw him as the ultimate memento mori, and now, here in a former monastery on The English Riviera as the rather low key centre piece to the exhibition, was the extremely rare chance to see the old boy. 

He has been dead a while now but the embalming was done thoroughly. He was a small, undernourished withered tramp to begin with; Edwin said his life on the road began at three and a half, but his yellowing, emaciated hairy body still fascinates and provokes awe, even for people like us who spend our days with the dead. 

We don’t embalm. Partly for environmental reasons, though I fear more for the embalmers than the water table, but really for psychological reasons. We think that the natural changes that a body goes through, the drawing back of the features, the sinking eyes, the thinning and discolouration of the fingertips, are things that the family can deal with, and if told honestly about what they are to see it not only fails to horrify, but actually helps. 

People unfurl in the presence of the truth, and the truth of what happens to a body in the liminal time between death and disposal is not always what horror films have led us to believe. It is gentler, perhaps even in Walt Whitman’s words, “and luckier.” Refrigeration between visits is of course essential, but the unstoppable, inevitable series of small changes that accompany most bodies’ early move from life to dead, are slight but profound, and are what can take the living to the brink of the furnace or the grave. It is a chance to say, again and again, “Okay, I get it. They really are gone. Let’s do what needs to be done.” 

So, despite the fact that he was embalmed, Edwin to us was a familiar if exaggerated sight; withered, crackled almost like canvas, each hair standing erect. And as he has now been dead well over twenty years, the absence of the personality was more pronounced than I have ever seen, but the thought that struck me as I gazed at his naked body was how much of his humanity still clung to him in a way which Gunther Von Hagens’s ‘plastinated’ mannequins don’t. 

But why? Both have been chemically preserved in a way I instinctively reject, yet one was filled with a fragile beauty which made me feel part of a bigger picture, and the other made me feel afraid for the road we have taken in the name of infotainment. 

Von Hagens’ plastinated people are undoubtedly educating, titillating and clever too, there of their own free will and most definitely art, but are they still in anyway remotely human? 

Something, perhaps not even in the technique but in the intention, has stripped them of more than their skin. They are Ridley Scott’s replicants awaiting animation, viscera bizarrely frozen in time, whereas Edwin, all creases and stitching and patina, is absolutely human. He is our future, what our outside bodies will look like when what was once within has gone. 

Age continues to wither him, as it should, as it does us all, but he strangely lives on, not posed as an athlete, or jauntily holding his entrails, or stripping off his muscles like body armour, but dead, dignified, still.