Can You Keep a Body in the Morgue For Years?
Published March 18, 2021
Every day, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide die of disease, murder, and even accidents. It’s up to their loved ones to pick them up at the hospital or the morgue.
But what happens when there’s a slight delay in picking them up? How long can you keep a body in the morgue?
There are plenty of circumstances and laws that dictate the disposition of the body. The laws in some states vary on how to deal with the status of the body. We’ve listed some of the exceptions, but there’s a complete list of them on the internet.
How Long Can You Keep a Body in the Morgue?
When a dead body at the morgue or the hospital, the law states that they have to contact the nearest or other relatives. Once they reach them, they can only hold the body for 96 hours (4 days).
However, there may be circumstances that cannot allow the relatives to retrieve the body in time. It’s up to the morgue or the hospital to give them the required amount of time to pick up their dead relative.
If no one can claim the body and contact the relatives within 96 hours, the morgue or the hospital will contact the Chief Medical Examiner. If the Chief Medical Examiner does not demand the body within 72 hours (3 days), the body will be buried or cremated as dictated by the law.
It is then up to the coroner, medical examiner, or county medical examiner to direct the cremation or funeral of an unclaimed dead body. They are only allowed to do so once they give proper notice and that the time limit to pick up the body is over.
If the body becomes the county’s responsibility, the public officer or employee will direct the deceased’s funeral. They will have the right to control the location, manner, and conditions of the dead body.
What are the Reasons to Delay the Retrieval of the Body in the Morgue?
There are plenty of reasons to delay picking up a body at the morgue. It will be the decision of the morgue or hospital holding the body to extend the time given.
The most common reason to delay the body’s retrieval is that family members or relatives cannot travel immediately. Someone might be pregnant and cannot travel due to the closeness of their due date.
The funeral may conflict with a separate event, such as graduations or weddings. During these circumstances, the retrieval might take up weeks before the funeral can take place.
The body might also be involved with a criminal investigation. In that case, the investigators may be inspecting the body for weeks.
The morgues or hospitals can also delay the funeral if the deceased have decided to donate their bodies to science. In the same scenario, they can also delay the funeral if the dead person is an organ donor.
In any case, the deceased’s families or relatives can choose to embalm them for the wake or refrigerate them. Embalming or refrigerating work in different ways to slow down decomposition.
If you’re planning an open-casket funeral, it is best not to leave the embalmed body out for more than a week; otherwise, it can last up to two weeks. Embalming does not stop the decay of the deceased, and it only slows it down.
Refrigerating a body is an alternative for holding a body in freezing conditions at two degrees Celsius (35.6°F). The body will last for three to four weeks, but, like embalming, it does not stop the body’s decomposition.
Note: Keep in mind that some states like North Dakota do not allow refrigerating of bodies.
Which States Have Special Laws?
There are varying laws for the dead in different states. However, there are no federal laws that state how long a morgue can keep a body. Here’s a list of some states alongside their reasons.
There are no preservation time requirements for home funeral families. In Alabama, they recommend reporting contagious or infectious diseases to the attending physician.
Embalming is required to leave the state unless they submit the body for medical research. There’s also a 24-hour mandatory wait time to cremate.
In Alaska, there are no preservation time requirements for home funeral families. They also check statutes for specific infectious diseases that require a physician’s advice.
The body must be embalmed or refrigerated after 24 hours. They also recommend reporting contagious or infectious diseases to the attending physician.
There is a long list of special laws for different states, and you can find them here.
About The Author
Dan Walter Reyes is a professional writer for a number of renowned websites. His passion for educating led him to study topics related to many industries in depth through sleepless nights and endless articles. He hopes to share his knowledge with the world.