Dying at home – what legal requirements are there?

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Many individuals with terminal illnesses or those coming to the end of their lives choose to die at their home, rather than in hospice or hospital. This is completely legal and is up to the individual and their family as to whether they want this to occur.  However, it is important to be aware of the fact that there are a number of laws in effect regarding the disposal of a body.

While it is a morbid topic, is it worth being aware of what the law states and how to deal with the issue to avoid possible arguments when the time comes. In NSW, you can look to Public Health Regulation 2012 Part 8 to learn how to deal with this issue. 

This law deals with what a mortuary is required to do. For example, there must be a body preparation room, which must have vehicle access, at least one hand basin and other items such as tables or slabs, refrigerated storage and impervious containers. The provisions also deal with vehicles and transportation of bodies.

Other key information that is important to be aware of are:

  1.   A body can be retained up to 5 days after death at the home or elsewhere before being required to send it to, for example, a funeral director.
  2.   To embalm a body you need to have completed an embalming course and be accredited.
  3.   A funeral director may make a body available for viewing unless it is believed to be infected with a prescribed infectious disease.
  4.   Before burial or cremation, a body must be placed in a coffin with the lid securely sealed. For a burial, the upper surface of the coffin must be buried to at least 900 millimetres.
  5.   You can transport a body but if it is infected the owner or driver of the vehicle must be advised of the infection and the body must be enclosed in a watertight coffin.
  6.   A body can only be buried in: a public cemetery, a private cemetery or place approved by the local council, on private land with a land size larger than 5 hectares and approved by the local council, in a National Park with approval, and not on land that is likely to contaminate water.
  7.   There are many rules around the exhumation of bodies.
  8.   Only one body can be cremated at a time.

 It is imperative that an individual has written in their will their wishes to be either buried or cremated, as well as other directions, such as the method of cremation. This will help prevent future issue your family members and loved ones may face.

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