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Cremation Guidelines for MA

The choice of cremation for final disposition of deceased human remains is one option that may be of interest to you or a loved one. Since cremation is a non-reversible form of disposition, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, like most other states, requires that the medical community, public safety officials and funeral service professionals comply with a stringent set of requirements before the actual cremation can take place. This explanation has been designed to help you understand the process that needs to be completed before a cremation and accompanying services are scheduled.
While we recognize that some individuals select cremation expecting to expedite the disposition of the deceased within a matter of hours or days, in nearly all instances this may not incur as quickly as some survivors may expect. As a result, we think it would be helpful for you to understand the steps that need to be followed before cremation can take place.

Massachusetts Regulation: Except in very rare circumstances these regulations prohibit the cremation of individuals prior to 48 hours following death. While this time frame has been enacted to give all parties involved the appropriate time to complete the following steps, survivors need to recognize that realistically more time will often be needed. While some of these steps may occur simultaneously, others cannot be initiated until the prior process is complete.

Accurate Completion of a Death Certificate: A death certificate is a universally required legal document which must be completed by a certifying physician. Many delays can be encountered in securing accurately completed death records. Some contributing factors may be the pronouncement of death by a registered nurse rather than a physician, the absence of an attending physician who is willing to certify the death and the fact that some physicians are not readily available to complete death records over weekends, holidays or other times, which may include their office non-business hours. Other delays that may be encountered are: a delay in release by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner if an autopsy is scheduled or if a death certificate is not initially completed properly by the physician and a new certificate must be obtained.

Organ Tissue Review/Recovery: The gift of organs and tissue following a death is one that brings comfort to many survivors and next of kin. Organ and tissue banks have the legal authority to review the deceased’s medical records and make a determination about contacting next of kin to seek a donation before remains can be released to the funeral director. If there is an agreement to do so, recovery personnel will be notified. While organ and tissue recovery teams are generally available on short notice to respond to donations, on occasion they may not be able to respond as quickly as expected or the recovery may take longer than expected. As a result, the release of remains from the medical institution may be delayed when this happens.

Identification of Remains: Since cremation is a non-reversible process it is necessary that remains be identified prior to cremation. This identification can take place in a number of ways, but will need to be done prior to cremation.

Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Case Assignment: Once an accurately completed death certificate has been obtained by the funeral director, it must be transmitted to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Boston. At that time, the OCME assigns investigative staff to review the circumstances of death to determine jurisdiction. This includes the assignment of an official case number to expedite the tracking and scheduling of their review. This step can take about 24 hours, sometimes longer depending upon the OCME workload. In some instances, after review of the death certificate, the Medical Examiner may seek jurisdiction of the case to obtain more information about the circumstances of death before the remains are cremated.

Permission to Cremate from Next of Kin: In instances where there are multiple survivors who all hold the equal legal right to authorize the cremation of the remains, it will be necessary to obtain the signature of each individual survivor on the cremation authorization.

Issuance of a Burial Permit: Massachusetts statutes require that a Burial and Transit permit accompany the remains to the crematory. This document is obtained in the municipality where death occurred upon the presentation of an accurately completed death certificate.

Certification of the Office of the chief Medical Examiner: A viewing by a Medical Examiner is required after all prior steps are completed and prior to cremation. The completion of this certification is subject to the schedule of the Medical Examiner assigned to the case.

Scheduling: Crematories, unlike funeral establishments, do not operate seven days per week, twenty-four hours a day. All follow a regular daily schedule and observe holidays and limited weekend operations. While some may offer cremation services during non operating hours, they will undoubtedly add a surcharge or additional fees to the cost of their cremation. Also cremations must be scheduled during certain times of the day due to the length of time needed to complete the process. Finally, some delays may be encountered based on the number of cremations taking place at the crematory and the staff available to oversee that service.

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