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Hospital morgue wrestles with rotting corpses

David Landes · 26 Jan 2010, 16:09

Published: 26 Jan 2010 16:09 GMT+01:00

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“The scene in there is horrifying,” a person with first-hand experience of the situation told the Aftonbladet newspaper.

The source described how dead bodies are sloppily wrapped in bloody sheets, often leaving their genitals exposed.

The morgue is currently undergoing a major renovation in order to increase its capacity.

But as work has progressed in recent weeks, bodies currently housed in the facility have not been cared for properly.

The situation is so bad that external funeral home personnel blew the whistle on the uncared for corpses by posting a note on the hospital’s bulletin board.

“Cover the bodies for God's sake,” reads the note.

“These are people we're dealing with.”

When confronted with the accusations that the hospital was failing to live up to its responsibility to treat corpses respectfully, morgue supervisor Gert Ridhagen acknowledged the problem, but explained that many of the root causes lie outside the morgue’s control.

“There’s some truth in the criticism. But we’ve received a number of deceased over the Christmas and New Year holidays. And besides, many have already been lying for awhile in their homes. So the decomposition process has already begun,” he told the newspaper.

Ridhagen added that the problem is aggravated by a lack of available storage room at nearby funeral homes.

In Sweden, an average of 20 days passes between a person's death and their burial, according to Aftonbladet.

In the Stockholm area, however, it takes an average of 30 days before bodies reach their final resting place.

“That’s an extremely long time by international standards,” Bo Forslund, a spokesperson for the Fonus group of funeral homes, told the newspaper, adding that no more than eight days passes between death and burial in neighbouring Norway and Denmark.

He explained that, even when kept refrigerated, corpses eventually begin to rot.

“I don’t think people understand what happens to a relative’s body. But at the same time, everyone has goods in their refrigerator. They ought to realize that bodies decompose,” said Forslund.

Story continues below…

He blames the often lengthy burial delays on a political decision to close morgues at municipality-operated nursing homes and care facilities, which has put increased pressure on hospital morgues while at the same time introducing additional logistical and administrative complications.

“The fewer nodes that handle the bodies, the lower the risk that shortcomings occur,” he told the newspaper.

Sweden’s culture ministry, which is responsible for matters related to burial, is currently considering a proposal which would reduce the length of time that bodies can be kept in a morgue from two months down to one month.

The proposal has been put out to various agencies for comment until March 1st.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

19:23 January 26, 2010 by jook
Gert Ridhagen I hope you were misquoted. My God man what a lame excuse. I have been to Karolinska for treatment. When I saw the headline I thought the story would be about the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, not Karolinska. Shame on you and shame on all of those involved. And what is the excuse for taking a month to bury or cremate the remains. If I didn't know better I would think Sweden was becoming a third world country.
20:43 January 26, 2010 by mikmak
One of the big reasons for people *wanting* to delay the burial of their relatives is so that they can arrange the ceremony like they want. It's actually the opposite for better or worse, in the sense of "third-worldedness", that you have the luxury of delaying burial for such amounts of time.
23:50 January 26, 2010 by Puffin
@ jook

You seem to have misunderstood the situation here - it is not the authorities who are taking a month it is the deceased's relatives that are not collecting the body for burial/cremation - there seems to be a culture in Sweden that there is no hurry to have a funeral - the culture is very much of waiting until all the family members find it convenient and you are able to shop around and plan the ceremony you want.

I've always found it strange here that 3-4 weeks is considered a normal time to wait between death and funeral
07:22 January 27, 2010 by believe
I know this will sound a bit morbid, but the thought crossed my mind; does Sweden embalm their dead? They say they are rotting in the fridge, so I am guessing that you do not. Funeral's must be closed caskets then? Everything is done so fast in the States. Three to seven days is the norm it seems. Sorry for such a strange question, I was just curious.
16:17 January 27, 2010 by annalot2
I want to know as an American, can i be sent right away back to the states or must i be put in a fridge 1-2 months? I will not go for that nor my family.
03:25 January 28, 2010 by Davey-jo
OK, with the average temperature well below zero, why not just take them outside and cover them up in snow and let 'em freeze for a bit. You just need to think outside the box; literally in this case.
00:04 February 4, 2010 by jook
Gert Ridhagen are you listening to Davey-jo? You should resign and be replaced by Davey-jo. A person who can solve the problem as long as the weather is below 0 C.
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