It has been in the news a lot recently, and we have discussed this previously on the Clinical Waste Discussion Forum – to ponder upon when a blob of tissue becomes a foetus and at what stage it is reasonable to expect some formal religious or other service?
It is a hugely complex matter? How many weeks gestation before any formal arrangements for disposal as a [potential] human being? Who should make those arrangements, and who should pay? When to ask Mum? Too soon and it may cause unnecessary distress, and likewise if left too late. What about those untold millions of foetuses discarded from terminations of pregnancy? And does a clinical waste incinerator differ that much from a cremator?
It seems remarkable that some women seek to claim months if not years after loosing a pregnancy, though that is not to say that the grief might be any less. Others choose simply block out all memories and feel worse when thing are raked up at some later stage.
It can be a no win situation, and one that is leaving hospitals with another and very considerable expense.
To remove at least some of the doubt about where any line might be drawn, the keynote case of Maric v Croatia concerning a hospital’s disposal of a stillborn child as clinical waste has been heard by the the European Court of Human Rights which held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case concerned the disposal of a stillborn child as clinical waste by a publicly-owned hospital and, in this case, the father’s complaint that he was then unable to obtain information about the resting place of his child.
After appeal, the Court concluded that the disposal of the body of the stillborn child together with clinical waste, leaving no trace of the remains or their whereabouts, was not in accordance with the law, and constituted a violation of Article 8. Thereby, the Court held that Croatia was to pay Mr Marić 12,300 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage.
Read the Press Release here
This helps clarify the current situation, though leaves many uncertainties as listed above. All-in-all, is it any more clear as to the expectation under this ruling of the ‘rules’ disposal of foetal remains after stillbirth or abortion?
Realistically, nobody is likely to seek those clarifications since the cost to do this would be prohibitive. Therefore, it is likely that hospitals will have to continue with their evolving practice of arranging the disposal of all aborted foetuses via a Local Authority cremator and scattering the ashes in a suitable place, keeping records indefinitely, and bearing the cost.
But first, Mum will have to be asked. That will cause upset and perhaps unnecessary distress. Decisions made may later be regretted, and some cooling off period must be matched by storage of the remains before disposal in case there is a change of mind. And for those who choose to make their own arrangements, suitable mortuary storage until arrangements have been made and the remains are transferred to the care of an undertaker. And when Mum finds out how much the undertaker plans to charge, she may well change her mind!