Cremation: Best solution | Daily News

Cremation: Best solution

Handling the remains of COVID-19 victims in Italy
Handling the remains of COVID-19 victims in Italy

Quarantine Law in Sri Lanka is governed by the Quarantine and Prevention of Disease Ordinance No.03 of 1897 (QPDO). According to its long title it is “an Ordinance to make provision for preventing the introduction into Sri Lanka of the Plague and all Contagious or infectious diseases and for preventing the spread of such diseases in and outside Sri Lanka”.

The Ordinance is composed of 12 sections while the Minister of Health and Indigenous Medical Services is granted the power to make regulations. Lengthy and detailed regulations relating to implementation of QPDO were made in 1925, 1933, 1946 and 1960. Applicability of the regulations to COVID-19 has now been effected with the publication of new regulations in the Extraordinary Gazette No.2167/18 (20.03.2020) whereby COVID-19 is declared to be a quarantinable disease.

The second person who died being prey to COVID 19 belonged to the Islamic faith and was said to have been cremated against the teachings of the Islamic faith. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem recently stated that (they); “...tried our best in whatever manner possible in the given circumstances to get higher political and medical authorities to intervene and prevent the hurried cremation”. He further posted “....we are also told that burial ten feet below the ground is not possible due to the high water table and possible seepage of water into the grave”. He also added that the request to shift the last rites of the deceased to Colombo was rejected by the Judicial Medical Officers (JMO).

Several other Muslim politicians and intellectuals also have later issued statements expressing concerns in this regard. However, these statements may disturb the public. On April 1, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, which is a nonpolitical and a nongovernmental religious institution in Sri Lanka, exclusively for Islamic theologians, released a statement declaring that “due to the prevailing compelling situation (Darurah), it shall not be regarded as sinful upon the Muslims if a “Janaza” is forcefully cremated”

Section 3 of QPDO authorizes the Minister to make regulations (3(h)) “for prescribing the mode of burial or cremation of any person dying of disease.”

Regulation 60 made under QPDO deals with the corpses of persons who die of disease. Accordingly if a “person dies of disease elsewhere than within the limits of a hospital or a place of observation no one shall touch the corpse except those who undertakes the necessary duties of preparing it for the burial or cremation. Such persons shall disinfect themselves in such manner as may be prescribed by the proper authority. The cloths surrounding the corpse of a person who had died of an infectious disease shall be disinfected in such manner as the proper authority may direct, the necessity for so doing having been carefully explained to the relatives. The clothing of persons who carry dead bodies shall be thoroughly disinfected.”

Regulation 61 which deals with burial, disinfection and removal of corpses states that “No person shall bury the corpse of anyone who has died of disease, except in a place approved by the proper authority that may give orders regarding the disinfection and removal of the corpses by specified thoroughfares, and for enforcing burial in certain places or at a certain depth”.

On March 24, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) released guidelines relating to Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19. These guidelines provide (inter-alia) that;

· “Safety procedures for deceased persons infected with COVID-19 should be consistent with those used for any autopsies of people who have died from an acute respiratory illness. If a person died during the infectious period of COVID-19, the lungs and other organs may still contain the live virus, and additional respiratory protection is needed during aerosol-generating procedures (e.g. procedures that generate small-particle aerosols, such as the use of power saws or washing of intestines);”

· Human Coronaviruses can remain infectious on surfaces for up to nine days. The COVID-19 virus has been detected up to 72 hours in experimental conditions. Therefore, cleaning the environment is paramount”. These guidelines pertain to the last rites of personas who die from COVID-19. Accordingly people who have died from COVID 19 can be buried or cremated. However, guidelines specifically provide the following requirements;

· Confirm national and local requirements that may dictate the handling and the disposition of the remains.

· Family and friends may view the body after it has been prepared for burial, in accordance with customs. They should not touch or kiss the body and should was hands thoroughly with soap and water after viewing:

· Those tasked with placing the body in the grave, on the pyre etc., should wear gloves and wash hands with soap and water after removal of the gloves once the burial is complete.

WHO guidelines specifically emphasize the need to adhere to ‘national and local requirements”. Accordingly the right of the respective Governments to decide the manner of disposition of corpses is recognized by WHO. In the context of apparent failure of the Western Countries to manage this epidemic domestically, it is not always advisable to rely on the guidelines these countries have published. Comparatively the Government of Sri Lanka has been able to manage the pandemic by keeping its spread within a controllable level. Therefore it is always advisable to follow and adhere to the guidelines and protocols issued from time to time by the Government of Sri Lanka, which has acquired the international recognition and reputation for successfully managing the pandemic.

According to Mr. Hakeem’s statement the authorities had indicated the danger of contamination of the underground water table in the instance of burial of an infected deceased. This is scientifically correct and such contaminated water could possibly be mixed up with drinking water. Forthcoming rains would further worsen the condition with the flow of contaminated water through the particles of the pervious soil. Irrespective of pending arguments the experts have not yet ruled out the possibility of transmission of the disease through animals (such as rats) which approach both buried corpses and human food.

Application of Fundamental Rights

Article 14 of the Constitution lists Freedom of Speech, Assembly, Association, Occupation and Movement along with few other Fundamental Rights. Article 14 (f) states that every citizen is entitled to freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. However article 15 of the Constitution restricts the operation of fundamental rights in certain instances. According to Article 15(7) “Article 14 shall be subjected to restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interest of national security, public order and the protection of public health and morality.”

There is a direct link between the Corona pandemic and National Security. In the present context the term National Security is closely associated with the national economy, the environment and public health of the citizens. It is the paramount duty of the Government to safeguard the lives of the people.

“Right to Life” is a right recognized under Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 3 states that everyone is entitled to right to life, liberty and security of person. Our Constitution indirectly secures Article 3 of the UDHR. Therefore QPDO, being a law for the protection of public health, national security and public order, could be made operative overpowering the operation of Fundamental Rights stipulated in Article 14.

The Government of Sri Lanka has taken practical and successful measures to safeguard the right to life of the people. In this highly volatile situation, State officials cannot take chances. The GOSL is now in the frontier in the global battle against COVID-19 and therefore has every right and authority to decide the best methods to manage and control this epidemic. In the circumstances the decision of the Government to cremate infected bodies without discrimination is Lawful and Constitutional. It is the duty of every citizen to keep faith in and abide by the laws, regulations and directives of the Government.


Add new comment