Infant cremation: Bonomy Report recommends changes

In our post Cremation following miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death: the Mortonhall Report we reported on the independent investigation commissioned by Edinburgh City Council in January 2013 into the practices at the Mortonhall crematorium and the resulting report published on 30 April 2014.  This followed evidence which indicated that whereas the privately run Seafield and Warriston Crematoria provided parents with the ashes of their babies following cremation, this was not the case for those whose babies were cremated at the local authority Crematorium, Mortonhall.

A BBC Scotland documentary broadcast on 3 April 2013 identified apparent inconsistencies in practices in crematoria across Scotland and internal audits were commissioned by Glasgow and Aberdeen City Councils. These were reported on 16 May and 15 July, respectively, and the matter was subsequently debated in the Scottish Parliament. As a consequence, the Scottish Government established the Infant Cremation Commission chaired by Lord Bonomy with the remit of to: review current policies, guidance, practice and legislation in Scotland in relation to the handling of all recoverable remains (ashes) following the cremation of babies and infants; and to make recommendations for improvement and change.

The Commission published its report today which focuses the cremation of babies and infants, although it notes that coincidentally it may have an impact on arrangements for the cremation of older children and adults.  However, there are special features of baby and infant death and cremation of which it is important to be aware in trying to devise systems to avoid repetition of past failures. The report notes

“Perhaps the most significant are the practical result of cremation of a baby and the proper understanding of that by the three separate groups who have roles in arranging and conducting funerals and cremations, namely, healthcare staff, Funeral Directors and crematorium staff.

Public concern about the current situation and the need for change was clearly expressed within a submission made by the parent of a baby who died shortly after having been born prematurely”.

Lord Bonomy states:

 “I feel that it is essential that national standards [i.e. in Scotland] are established to inform the work of crematoria and that bereaved parents of the future are not left with any doubt about what has happened to the remains of their deceased children. If there are no remains then time should be taken to explain to parents why this might be the case. Parents also need to understand why apparently remains can be retrieved 100% of the time in some crematoria, but almost never in others. The current situation is not acceptable.”

The aim of the Commission was “to identify where the problems lie and to devise arrangements for cremation which address these problems in order to ensure that those involved have a clear and consistent understanding of the whole process that will enable them to assist families to make informed decisions, have their babies laid to rest as they wish, and have confidence that their wishes have been implemented.”

The report makes 64 recommendations including: a statutory definition of “ashes”; regulation of cremation of babies of less than 24 weeks gestation; and an urgent review of cremation practices within Scotland. The BBC reports that the Scottish government has established a national investigation team to look into all the families’ allegations, and Public health minister Michael Matheson told the Scottish Parliament the team would be headed by the former Lord Advocate of Scotland, the Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini QC DBE, who headed the Mortonhall investigation.

In our earlier post we observed that the Mortonhall report has attracted little media attention south of Hadrian’s Wall, yet there were clearly lessons to be learned by all those associated with the design, operation and use of crematoria throughout the UK, and given the currently accepted belief that ashes cannot be recovered from the cremation of babies of less than 24 months, a survey of the practice in England and Wales would seem timely.

A fuller analysis of on Bonomy Report will be made in a subsequent post.

3 thoughts on “Infant cremation: Bonomy Report recommends changes

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