COVID-19 | Last rites of victims now a bone of contention

The the latest World Health Organization guidelines say that people who die of COVID-19 can be “buried or cremated” according to “local standards and family preferences”.   | Photo Credit: Sakeer Hussain

Last rites of COVID-19 victims appear to be snowballing into a fresh row having political overtones after the Indian Union Muslim League recently threw its weight behind religious groups that have sought tweaking of the Health Department directives. Meanwhile, the latest guidelines brought out by the World Health Organization (WHO) say that people who die of COVID-19 can be “buried or cremated” according to “local standards and family preferences”.

T. Jayakrishnan, Professor, Department of Community Medicine, Government Medical College Hospital, Kozhikode, points out that it is the duty of the kin to ensure the last rites to the departed. He says, quoting the WHO guidelines, that national and local regulations might determine how the remains should be handled and disposed. Family and friends may view the body after it has been prepared for burials, in accordance with local customs. They, however, “should not touch or kiss the body” and should perform hand hygiene after the viewing.

The guidelines of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare are somewhat similar. Religious rituals such as reading from religious scripts, sprinkling holy water and any other last rites that do not require touching of the body can be allowed, they say.

Though the State government recently allowed kin of the deceased to have a final glimpse of their dear ones before cremation or burial, a section of religious bodies have sought permission to clean the bodies as well. A recent meeting of Muslim organisations decided to petition the Chief Minister and the Health Minister to drive home their point.

WHO norms

The WHO says a body in a body bag or coffin needs to be treated in accordance with local customs and standards. If a body will be buried or cremated without a casket or body bag, surgical or waterproof rubber gloves can be used to place the body in the grave or the funeral pyre. If traditional funeral rituals are required, families and traditional burial attendants can be equipped and instructed in the preparation of bodies for burial or cremation. Although burials or cremations should take place in a timely manner and in accordance with local practices, funeral ceremonies that do not involve the disposal of the body should be postponed, if possible, until the end of the epidemic. If a ceremony is held, the number of participants should be kept to a minimum, says the WHO.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 10:56:22 PM |

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