Cook County Morgue proposes cremation option for unclaimed bodies

July 30, 2013 (CHICAGO)

For the first time ever in Cook County, the medical examiner wants cremation as an option for indigent remains.

For decades Cook County has wrestled with how to handle bodies of the poor and the destitute dead; hundreds of unclaimed and unwanted remains that must be given a final resting place.

Now, there is a proposal that for the first time would allow Cook County's medical examiner the option to cremate those bodies.

It will be introduced at Wednesday's county board meeting.

This is the jarring reality of how Cook County has dealt with unclaimed corpses for a century: mass graves, images burned in the minds of many after a body scandal at the morgue exposed by the I-Team more than a year ago.

When our investigative team uncovered these photos of mishandled remains inside the morgue, decaying and piled disrespectfully atop each other, it spelled the end for medical examiner Nancy Jones, and the beginning for Dr. Stephen Cina.

Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of Cina's hiring, and the ABC7 I-Team has learned this ordinance will be introduced by President Toni Preckwinkle.

The law would allow the medical examiner to cremate unclaimed bodies instead of burying them- a sharp reversal of the status quo in Cook County.

The proposed ordinance would allow indigent remains to be cremated "within 60 days" of notifying next-of-kin.

Instead, bodies would be taken to a crematory contracted by the county, a process less costly for county taxpayers, who now pay $480 for each public burial.

The new medical examiner's ordinance will be introduced Wednesday and then taken up by committee.

A full county board vote is expected in September.

If it passes, Cook County would have cremation as an option for disposing of unclaimed remains but wouldn't be required to cremate.

Bodies could still be buried if required by a person's religion or donated for scientific research.

Additional information:
Proposed ordinance amendment document

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