Chinese mortuaries run out of space as bodies go unclaimed for years

Hospital says half the bodies in its morgue are unclaimed or unidentified, including one that has been there for over a decade

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 December, 2017, 3:10pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 December, 2017, 7:50pm

Mortuaries in China are running out of space for new bodies as more corpses go unclaimed, according to local television reports.

The latest example was reported by Hunan Television on Saturday. It said that seven of the 15 chambers at the Central Hospital of Xiangtan city are now occupied by unidentified or unclaimed bodies.

Similar problems have previously been reported by the media in other parts of the country.

“The seven bodies had been here for a very long time, the earliest dating back to 2007,” a doctor managing the morgue said.

“If you calculate the money and resources wasted on such decade-long storage, the figures are huge.”

The hospital estimated that the body deposited in 2007 had cost it 1.7 million yuan (US$260,000).

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“We have reported the issue to the government. The government said we should handle the bodies according to the law. But the law did not tell us what to do,” the doctor said.

Some families have refused to claim bodies because the deceased relative was involved in an unsettled legal dispute.

In other cases they simply declined to pay the morgue storage fee of 8 yuan per hour.

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According to mainland Chinese law, a body not be in a hospital morgue for more than two weeks. After that, the hospital can contact a crematorium to dispose of it.

But the Chinese law also forbids cremation without permission from family members or the police.

In some cases police have refused to authorise the cremation of an unidentified or unclaimed body due to concerns about the legal consequences, such as being sued by relatives of the deceased.