The Nova Scotia Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors issued a report last week calling for their legislature to “ensure that there is a system in place” for the handling of human remains. The report was prompted by a mix-up at a Nova Scotia funeral home on December 27, 2017, that was “unacceptable” according to the inquiry.
You can read an article from the Toronto Star here that describes what happened. In essence, what happened was that the mortuary did two removals, the bodies on stretchers were eventually placed in the same van, and a funeral director on duty placed one in the crematory and prepared one for visitation via embalming. The mistake that was made is that he did not use proper identity techniques and, as you may surmise, the bodies were mixed up and went to the improper method of disposition.
The case then followed thru where the embalmed body was presented to the family at the visitation, but it was the wrong body. After some time, the funeral home discovered and had to admit about the mix-up.
George MacLellan, the provincial minister responsible for Service Nova Scotia said he hopes to bring legislative changes during this session and regulate how bodies are identified during the funeral process.
The funeral home involved in this case was not found at fault because they had adequate identification procedures in place. They have been prohibited, however, from carrying out cremations for a 30-day period. The funeral director, however, admitted he didn’t check the written identification, nor did he telephone others who made the removals to confirm identities. The funeral director will no longer be able to conduct business as a funeral director or embalmer according to a ruling from the Nova Scotia Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.
Funeral Director Daily take: We, in funeral service, are human and make mistakes. However, we should do whatever we can do and have stringent rules on the identifying of human remains trusted to be in our custody. I operated a funeral home for about 35 years and had a crematory installed in 2006 when we built a new mortuary. I was paranoid to death of mixing up and cremating the wrong body.
I always believed that I was a pretty good boss but when we installed the crematory we put in a rule that never could a body be cremated without two signatures of funeral directors that had identified the body and seen the paperwork that indicated cremation authorization by family and the medical examiner. My rule was, that if this procedure was ever not followed, you would be fired on the spot. It did not matter how busy we were — you always had to have two signatures. If we were in a bind – I told funeral directors – call me and I will drop everything I am doing to come down and be the 2nd signature, but never cremate without two signatures. We have since added a family identification procedure which now adds that a signature of a family member identifying that particular body as their loved one as a requirement prior to cremation.
Folks, the stakes are just too high to make a mistake of this magnitude. Not only financial lawsuits from two families but, probably more importantly, is the negative press you will get that can wipe out a century of good will and branding of trust and responsibility. And, what really seems sad in this case, is that the funeral home had the procedures in place and an employee just did not take the time to follow them.