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County’s new pauper burial policy only for unclaimed bodies

Washington County seeks to balance the societal demand for proper treatment of deceased paupers’ remains with the escalating demand for services to be paid by taxpayer dollars.
A pauper’s funeral or pauper’s burial is a funeral ceremony paid for by local governmental authorities, typically because the deceased’s estate is not enough to cover the costs.
The Tennessee Code beginning in 1858 has provided: “No warrant shall be drawn to pay for the funeral or cremation expenses of a pauper, unless the claim is accompanied by an affidavit showing the cost of the same, that the expenses were incurred for the internment of a pauper in the county, and that the claimant has no other means of obtaining payment.”
The county mayor believes a recent misunderstanding regarding guidelines for unclaimed bodies has caused undue concern for many Washington County residents.
To clarify, there has been no change in the policy for families who are unable to afford burial for a loved one who has died.
“When families face this most unfortunate situation, the county steps into the void,” Mayor Eldridge emphasized in a recent interview with the Herald & Tribune.
Eldridge says the county works with local funeral homes and pays to have the body cremated. The ashes are then placed in an urn and returned to the family.
Washington County has not and will not prevent any family from receiving their loved one’s ashes, Eldridge said.
The county will use creamation as its method of handling the body in all cases, with two exceptions ­— in the death of a veteran or a child.
In the case of a veteran, the body is sent to the Veterans Administration in Johnson City for burial. Washington County will make different arrangements with the family in the case of a child’s death.
The abuse recently discovered regarding pauper burials relates to families who can afford funeral expenses for their loved ones, but tell the county they are unable.
These expenses then fall to the taxpayers, which is wrong.
Officials believe that there may be a correlation between the recession and the number of burials being paid for at governmental expense.
Eldridge acknowledges that there will be circumstances that merit pauper burials.
“But we want to put in means to prevent the taxpayer from being unnecessarily burdened,” he said.
The guidelines proposed by the Health and Welfare Committee would apply only to bodies that are not claimed. Sadly, no individuals have identified these bodies as family members.
Rather than cremating the bodies and placing the ashes in the county farm repository, the bodies would first be offered to state medical facilities for the purposes of research and teaching.
The only bodies being offered to state medical facilities are those that have not been claimed.
For those whose family members have claimed the body, but cannot afford to bury it, the process will continue the way it has for years, with the body being cremated and the remains being returned to the family.
Eldridge said the county is even considering holding the ashes of unclaimed bodies for a designated period of time, five years for example, in the unlikely event that a family member comes forward and requests them.
The pauper burial policy for unclaimed bodies, when adopted by the Washington County Commission, should be clearly written and copies made available to funeral homes, churches, hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions that deal with the issues associated with death and dying.
The county appears to have attempted to balance considerations that will afford proper respect to deceased individuals of limited means while protecting the public purse from being overwhelmed with requests for burial payments from individuals that have the resources to pay for burials without government assistance.