Those who die indigent, homeless or away from friends and family are often left unclaimed in hospital morgues. Since the economic crisis in 2009 and lingering unemployment, instances of unclaimed corpses have even included individuals whose family and friends cannot afford the cost of burial. Although procedures for dealing with unclaimed corpses differ from state-to-state, there are some standard ways that states deal with unclaimed corpses.
Search for Family
When a death by homicide, accident, natural death or other means occurs without the presence of a person to identify or claim the deceased individual, authorities search for next of kin based on any identifying materials or characteristics. In some states, such as Oregon, authorities are made to search for next of kin for at least 10 days before disposing of the body. In some cases, next of kin are readily available but not able to claim the body or take responsibility for the economic aspect of burial.
Medical Schools and Scientific Use
Each state demands that any unclaimed bodies need to be first offered to medical schools and other organisations that uses human remains for scientific study. Many medical schools have a shortage of cadavers for student study, so the use of unclaimed bodies is very common. Body farms, used by both law enforcement officials and medical school students, are areas in which human bodies are left untreated by chemicals so that students and officials can study the human body at various states of decomposition. This knowledge can help federal officials and forensic scientists to solve homicides.
Burial or Cremation
If the body is not usable or needed scientifically, then most states or municipalities provide some amount of money to reimburse funeral homes and crematoriums for the disposal of the remains. While some states have "pauper's graves", which are graves specifically for unclaimed bodies, other states cremate unclaimed bodies. North Carolina cremates unclaimed bodies and sprinkles the remains into the sea every three years.
Responsibility for unclaimed human remains lies firmly in the hands of state and local officials in the United States. The only way in which the federal government takes part in the process of disposing of human remains is in sometimes offering military graveyards for unclaimed bodies of veterans.
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- Spiteful Critic; Unclaimed Cadavers: What Happens When You Die Alone; Blair Williams
- Oregon Live; Disposition of unclaimed bodies in U.S. varies by state, jurisdiction; Tim Funk; August 22, 2011
- Charlotte Observer; More bodies are going unclaimed; Tim Funk
- Death Reference Desk; Death and the Economy: Unclaimed Corpses Accumulate at the LA County Morgue;