Wrong body cremated: Undertakers issue public apology over mix-up

Family members of Mr Kee Kin Tiong, 82, told The Straits Times they were in "great pain" over the mix-up. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - The two undertakers involved in the mix-up and cremation of a wrong body made a public apology on Monday (Jan 6).

Harmony Funeral Care and Century Products said in a statement that they will "make appropriate amends" to the affected family and take immediate steps so that the 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 companies said.

"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 between Dec 29 and Dec 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 that morning and later cremated at Mandai Crematorium.

The bodies of both men were in the same room.

The employee has since been suspended.

Mr Kee's family, who is Taoist, had been at their home's void deck 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, had 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."

The joint statement by the two companies comes two days after the National Environment Agency (NEA) announced last Saturday that Harmony Funeral Care will be barred from using government after-death facilities.

This will continue until it can prove it has taken measures so the "egregious error" does not recur, the NEA said.

In the statement on Monday, both companies said they will now be tagging the wrists and ankles of bodies with identification tags.

The tags will have the deceased's personal particulars and the address of the wake, 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 two 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 which requires PIN access to the embalming room, and a new 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."

The companies told ST that the 70-year-old Christian man's body was cremated a day after the confusion came to light, on Dec 31.

The NEA also said on 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. The company faces a fine of up to $1,000 and up to twice this amount for a second or subsequent conviction.

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