GEORGE TOWN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A family suffered a double tragedy when they found out that the body of their father who died in a road accident not only went 'missing' from the mortuary, but had also been cremated by "someone else".
Mr Fong Meng Tuck, 60, passed away in a road accident at around 2am on Monday (Nov 21) at Maccallum Street, some 200m away from his house.
His body was sent to the Penang Hospital for a post-mortem, before his family members were allowed to claim the body for funeral rites.
However, Mr Fong's distraught son Edward Fong said family members were shocked when they were told that his body had been claimed by "someone else".
"We went to the Penang Hospital mortuary at about 2pm on Monday. After signing the 'body release form', the hospital told us that my father's body wasn't at the mortuary.
"After waiting for about an hour, a family member of another person who had died and whose body was also at the mortuary, told us that the family had mistakenly claimed my father's body earlier, and that the cremation had taken place," said the 28-year-old businessman when contacted yesterday.
Mr Edward Fong said it was a shock for his family as they had not only lost their beloved father, they also did not get a chance to pay their last respects.
"My father was a healthy man. We didn't expect to lose him so soon. Since he had left us, we just wanted to have a decent farewell for him. But now what we have is just some ashes.
"And the question now is, how can we confirm that these ashes belong to my dead father?" he asked, adding that no death certificate was issued to his family as the "identity" of his father has yet to be confirmed.
He said he had lodged a police report over the incident and the family members are considering taking legal action against those responsible.
Mr Edward Fong said the hospital has approached his family members to take blood samples for a DNA test.
Family friend Jason Khor, a lawyer, said the family is still waiting for a written explanation from the hospital and the Ministry of Health.
"I hope that the hospital can expedite this case so that the family can proceed with the funeral rites," he added.
Penang Hospital Visitors Board chairman Lim Thoon Deong, who acted as the mediator between the hospital's management and Mr Fong's family, said he was informed that a hospital staff had allegedly mixed up the bodies of Mr Fong with the decomposed body of one Ho Swee Kim.
"This incident happened as the staff did not follow the standard operating procedure for body claims, and had allegedly passed on Meng Tuck's body to a representative of a funeral services provider, without confirming the identity of the body.
"The internal investigation has concluded and the reports from the hospital director and the state Health Department director have been submitted to the Ministry of Health," he said.
He said a meeting between the hospital and the family members was held and the hospital has promised to get the DNA test done by Friday, before Mr Fong's scheduled funeral.
Meanwhile, in a press statement, Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said that the hospital staff involved in the incident has been suspended for violating the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) of Forensic Medicine Service.
"A probe has been carried out and stern disciplinary action will be taken against the staff.
"The Ministry has ordered all the hospitals to improve their SOP to ensure that a similar incident does not recur," he said.
He said the Ministry regretted the incident and that the matter was taken seriously.