Hank Investigates Cremation Body Viewing During Pandemic

(WHDH) — If you’ve recently lost a loved one you may be paying for a safeguard that’s being skipped. Hank uncovers a hidden cost of the coronavirus that has some concerned. Hank investigates this price of the pandemic.

With the crush of the COVID pandemic, funeral professionals are handling more deaths than they ever imagined. And some worry this tragic onslaught is causing state officials to skip a critical safeguard in the system.

Before someone is cremated Massachusetts law requires a medical examiner or forensic investigator to actually view the body.

To make sure there’s no foul play and confirm the person’s identity. Grieving families pay the state $200 for that final reassurance.

“Cremation is an undoable step. So, if there’s a problem, you will never find out about it post-cremation,” Patti Muldoon, President of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Eastern Massachusetts, said.

But right now, because of the pandemic, the viewing is not happening.

And Muldoon worries without it something might get missed.

“They are not even viewing the body to see if there are any concerns or if it’s the right body,” Muldoon said.

The medical examiner’s office has put those views on hold to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission and reduce the amount of PPE used.

Instead, they’re relying on paperwork, matching death certificates and medical records.

But we found these medical examiner cremation certificates say officials “viewed” bodies when they actually did not.

And Muldoon wonders why families still have to pay $200.

“Are families paying for something they’re not getting?” Hank asked.

“It’s false advertising. At a minimum, it’s unfair to all of those grieving families who think things are right when they aren’t being carried out,” Muldoon said.

The medical examiner’s office says the $200 fee helps pay to support its office and operations, and, for now, believes paperwork confirmations are sufficient.

But Muldoon is not so sure.

“Mistakes are possible. And if you’re just viewing paperwork, you never get to find out,” Muldoon said.

The medical examiner’s office says it will continue to investigate suspicious deaths and will view bodies if required. The agency tells me it’s in the process of changing cremation certificates to say the body was not officially viewed.

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