August 27, 2009

Record numbers of unclaimed dead reflect economic woes

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The recession appears to be taking a toll on everyone – even the dead, writes Anne Saker of the Oregonian. At its current pace, Oregon may see record numbers of unclaimed bodies in morgues this year, reflecting a growing national trend.

The deceased include a mix of the unidentified, the impoverished and the estranged, but more and more families are reluctant to claim bodies due to financial hardships. Whole-body donations, which provide body parts for medical research in exchange for free partial cremation, have seen a 40 percent increase from this time last year.

Oregon’s Indigent Burial Fund, supported by taking $6 out of the $20 fee funeral homes pay to register each death, works to cover the cremation costs for the unclaimed dead. The other 49 states rely on taxpayers dollars to fill the void. And not  surprisingly, those funds are running thin.

Earlier this month, Alison Statemen of Time Magazine put together an interesting piece on the swelling numbers of unclaimed bodies, reporting double-digit percent increases across many states already crippled by double-digit budget cuts.

This is the worst it has ever been, said Albert Samuels, chief investigator at the Wayne County, Mich. medical examiner’s office:

We have people losing their homes. People are finally feeling the economic strain completely. When people don’t have jobs, you have people who can’t eat, so burying someone is not high up on their list of what they have to do.

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