Wrong body cremated

Undertakers apologise, vow to make amends

Measures such as ID tags on wrists, ankles of bodies taken to prevent repeat of mix-up

The two undertakers involved in a mix-up and cremation of a wrong body made a public apology yesterday. Harmony Funeral Care and Century Products said they will "make appropriate amends" to the affected family and take immediate steps so that such an error is not repeated.

"We sincerely apologise to the family of the late Mr Kee Kin Tiong for the distress caused to them when we incorrectly collected his body and cremated him ahead of his funeral rites on Dec 30, 2019," the firms said in a joint statement.

"We understand how important it is for family members to be able to send off their deceased loved ones in a manner that accords with their faith, and we deeply regret that the family of Mr Kee were unable to do so."

The mix-up occurred around Dec 29 and 30 when an employee of Harmony Funeral Care mistakenly collected Mr Kee's body from the embalming room of Century Products, a funeral parlour with embalming facilities.

The body was placed in a closed coffin, which was taken to the Christian funeral of a 70-year-old man and cremated at Mandai Crematorium on Dec 30.

The bodies of both men were in the same room. The employee has since been suspended.

Mr Kee's family, who are Taoist, were waiting at the void deck of their block in Sengkang on Dec 30 to receive the 82-year-old's body for the wake when they were told by Harmony Funeral Care that the body had already been cremated.

Mr Kee's son-in-law, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ho, told The Straits Times: "According to our beliefs, it is required that the deceased's body be allowed to 'rest' for a minimum of three days before it is cremated. We weren't able to do that for my father-in-law because of what happened."

Last Saturday, the National Environment Agency (NEA) announced that Harmony Funeral Care will be barred from using government after-death facilities. This will continue until it can prove that it has taken measures so that the "egregious error" does not recur, the NEA said.

Yesterday, both firms said they will now tag the wrists and ankles of bodies with identification tags bearing the deceased's personal particulars and the address of the wake. This is in addition to the industry practice of placing a white cloth with the undertaker's company name and address of the wake venue over the body.

Funeral staff and embalmers of the companies have also been told to make sure that customers provide final confirmation of the identity of the body, "particularly so for cases involving direct cremation without a wake".

 
 
 
 

Other new measures include:

• the maintenance of log books for bodies received at and collected from the embalming facility;

• a new lock system to the embalming room accessed with a personal identification number; and

• a video system outside Century Products' embalming room.

The two companies said: "We will continue to engage Mr Kee's family, and work to make it right by them as soon as possible."

They told ST that the 70-year-old Christian man's body was cremated on Dec 31.

The NEA also said last Saturday that Century Products will be charged under the Environmental Public Health (Funeral Parlours) Regulations for not keeping proper records of the bodies received or removed from the premises. It faces a fine of up to $1,000 and up to twice this amount for a second or subsequent conviction.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2020, with the headline 'Undertakers apologise, vow to make amends'. Print Edition | Subscribe