By Zaya Williams
The Senate has successfully passed the Public Health Amendment Bill 2023, marking a significant step toward enacting legislation that governs the duration for retaining deceased persons’ remains in funeral homes or other authorized facilities.
This bill introduces amendments to the existing Public Health Act Cap 353 provisions.
The bill’s journey through the legislative process gained momentum when it received approval from government ministers in the lower house just a week ago. Today, senators rallied behind the legislation, describing it as “noncontentious” and “necessary.”
The unchallenged status of the bill allowed the Senate to efficiently conclude its session, setting a record for expeditious deliberations.
One of the bill’s key provisions stipulates that “an unclaimed human corpse shall not be kept in a funeral home or any other place authorized to keep dead bodies for more than fourteen (14) days.” Additionally, the legislation outlines the process for cases where a human corpse remains unclaimed for an extended period.
Specifically, the bill asserts that “Where any human corpse, as referred to in subsection (1), remains unclaimed for more than fourteen days, the director of the funeral home or the person in charge of the authorized place for keeping human corpses shall obtain permission from the Chief Public Health Inspector to bury or cremate such corpse.”
In a move that aims to ensure transparency and public awareness, the Chief Health Inspector is mandated to initiate the burial process 45 days after an initial 14-day period. During this period, notices will be published, calling on individuals to claim the body.
However, Minority Leader Shawn Nicholas raised valid concerns regarding two aspects of the bill.
Firstly, she pointed out a section of the legislation that reads, “the Chief Health Inspector shall cause to be published two notices in the Official Gazette and a daily newspaper circulating in Antigua and Barbuda and where practicable any social media source.”
Nicholas proposed the consideration of using two daily newspapers, citing their potential effectiveness in reaching a broader cross-section of the population and the cost-effectiveness of such advertising.
Secondly, Nicholas expressed reservations about another aspect of the bill, which indicates that “The expenses of the burial shall be recovered from the deceased’s estate, which shall include but is not limited to, the Social Security payments to which the deceased may be entitled.”
She questioned the feasibility and practicality of recovering costs from the deceased’s estate.
Should Nicholas’ concerns become reality, the bill provides a contingency plan: “Where there are no known assets to pay for the expenses of the burial, the Government shall bear the reasonable costs for the burial of the deceased.”
The passing of the Public Health Amendment Bill 2023 is a significant development in the country’s efforts to establish comprehensive regulations surrounding the handling of deceased persons’ remains.