At least 100 bodies are unclaimed in Singapore’s funeral homes and morgues every year with 15 among them were sent to hospitals and medical schools for education or research, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Many of them are elderly.
While, there was a hot debate in New York over a new law that bans the use of unclaimed bodies as teaching cadavers without written consent by a spouse or the next of kin, MOH’s spokesperson said that controls are in place in Singapore.
However, he stressed that the police must confirm that the next of kin or proper claimant is untraceable and approval must be sought from the State Coroner.
He also added that it usually takes a few weeks for the necessary approvals, noting that thorough checks must be conducted to ensure that the next of kin is indeed untraceable and that there are no other claimants.
Chief executive of Ang Chin Moh Funeral Directors Debbie Andres told The Straits Times, “Once all parties have confirmed the deceased has no next of kin… we prepare the deceased with care, provide a funeral casket, arrange for cremation and the appropriate religious rites of the deceased.”
Ms Andres said that some were abandoned by family members after being checked into a nursing home. While, others were estranged or had no next-of-kin details provided to the home, saying, “Some families do a few visits initially and stop visiting after they are unable to pay for charges due to financial difficulties, mental stress and other reasons.”
The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has a forensic medicine division for cases where a doctor cannot certify the cause of death, which handles 40 to 75 unclaimed bodies a year.
It noted that where there is no immediate claimant, HSA work with the police to confirm the identity of the deceased, noting that these bodies are generally retained in the mortuary for up to 21 days and occasionally longer if more time is needed to locate the next of kin.