Funeral homes refuse Aids victims

Ella Lee

Funeral parlours are refusing to handle the bodies of Aids victims or allow relatives to hold services.

Fears of infection were cited as the reason for refusing to dress the bodies, although funeral home workers were apparently happy enough to deal with people killed by highly contagious diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis.

The Equal Opportunities Commission said that as a result of the Post investigation it would approach all six funeral parlours and launch a formal inquiry if necessary. It said illegal discrimination seemed to be taking place.

Four privately-run homes said they would not take bodies infected with HIV because undertakers were scared by the 'extremely terrible disease'.

The other two funeral homes, run by a charity group, offered little more.

The International Funeral Parlour in Hunghom and Diamond Hill Funeral Parlour, run by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, will not provide a complete funeral for Aids patients, which generally includes make-up, religious mourning rituals, and public viewing.

Staff at the International Funeral Parlour said they could take a corpse from hospital to the crematorium, but relatives would have to pay $1,000 lai see on top of the $8,000 basic charge for the 'hardship'.

Rita Chung Wai-yee, a nurse specialist at the Aids Unit of Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said the families and friends of Aids victims felt humiliated that they could not give a decent farewell to their loved ones.

Patients who die with infectious diseases at public hospitals are wrapped in double plastic layers to avoid fluid leaks.

'Even though the family try to keep quiet, undertakers are smart enough to know what is going on once they see the plastic bags,' Ms Chung said.

A Post reporter posing as a potential customer telephoned the six funeral homes asking to arrange a funeral for a friend.

A woman answering the phone at Hong Kong Funeral Home, North Point, was alarmed when told the 'friend' had died of an infectious disease.

'Do you mean Aids? No, we don't take such jobs. The undertakers say no way will they do this,' she said. 'We're all afraid.' Three other private funeral homes - Kowloon Funeral Parlour, Po Fook Memorial, and Universal Funeral Parlour - gave similar answers.

Dr Patrick Li Chung-ki, head of the Aids Unit at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, described undertakers as 'one of the worst' service providers, in terms of their attitude, towards Aids.

'Of course, undertakers take some risk of getting infected, but they should not deal with it by denying people services. They should instead take universal precautions [such as wearing gloves] to protect themselves.' The commission's director of disability, Frederick Tong Kin-sang, said that under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance it was unlawful to discriminate against Aids patients by denying them services.

'If at the end of the day we believe there is a discrimination, we will launch a formal investigation and take action,' he said.