A bill that requires consent before unidentified bodies are released for scientific research passed the New York Senate last Tuesday by a vote of 62 to one.
“As a result of this bill, no one’s remains can be given away without the express consent of the next of kin, no matter how long it takes,” said state Sen. Simcha Felder, the bill’s Senate sponsor. “This is about making sure that those who have left this world will be treated with respect. It is about basic human decency.”
Previously, bodies that had not been identified within 48 hours of death were made available to the American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service in Manhattan, the city’s only embalming school. When the city decided to suspend the practice, AAMI sued, claiming that the move impeded their operation and violated codes requiring the swift release of unclaimed corpses.
That case is still pending. However, in March, Felder and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz introduced a bill to block the release of bodies for teaching or scientific purposes without express consent of next of kin.
Of particular concern to legislators was the possibility of people passing away while out of their hometowns, creating a significant risk of families taking more than the 48-hour period to claim bodies. The bill only applies to municipalities with 100,000 residents or more.
“There are many cases where people die with no identification on them at all,” says Rabbi Zvi Gluck, director of Amudim Community Resources. “In those cases, it requires more time and effort, often more than 48 hours, to find the next of kin, but it is worth it to provide closure and peace of mind to the family.”
The bill heads to the Assembly’s Health Committee, where it is expected to pass easily. One challenge is that legislative sessions are drawing to a close, most likely by the end of the week.