Intended for healthcare professionals


UK charter aims to improve rights for the dead

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 28 November 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1472
  1. Hugh Matthews
  1. BMJ

    The Dead Citizens Charter, launched this week in the United Kingdom, warns that the average funeral in Britain is a “costly and miserable affair,” and calls for wide reforms of the £840m funeral industry to allow informed choice for those preparing for death.

    The charter, published by the National Funerals College--an organisation set up in 1994 to improve funeral practices--and supported by Age Concern, expresses alarm over the cost of funerals, particularly those purchased by bereaved relatives soon after a death. It highlights the need for closer regulation of prepaid funeral plans and the funeral market in general, both of which have been the subject of recent government inquiries. It also wants doctors to communicate better with and give support to those whose relatives undergo a postmortem examination, and calls on hospitals to acknowledge the right of next of kin to claim the body of the deceased, rather than restricting access to funeral directors.

    Malcolm Johnson, professor of health and ageing at the University of Bristol and chairman of the National Funerals College, says in the report: “For many, the contemporary funeral lacks meaningful symbolism, dignity, adequate time, and comfort for those who mourn.” Many of the 30 rights set out in the charter attempt to address these issues and aim to restore respect and honour to the dead at their last rites. The charter calls for freedom of choice for dying people and their relatives, and suggests that “funeral advisers” should be appointed by hospitals and nursing homes. These advisers would help people with preparations for their own funeral and could help the family with obligatory tasks after the death.

    The National Funerals College consulted widely with church representatives, humanists, and funeral directors in preparing the charter. As part of a move to improve standards, it is calling for better training for both funeral directors and those who lead funeral services, so that families can feel that their wishes and those of the deceased are being respected.

    The Dead Citizens Charter is available from the National Funerals College, 3 Priory Road, Bristol BS8 1TX, price £5.

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    Reforms are needed to improve funeral arrangements

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