A distraught family have sparked a furious outcry after revealing they were forced to load their own grandmother’s body into a funeral director’s panel van in order to have her death certified by a GP.
Appearing on Channel 9’s A Current Affair, Elizabeth O’Kane’s daughter Anna and grandson Josef gave an emotional account on camera of how they had to take matters into their own hands when the 71-year-old passed away from cancer at her daughter’s home near Maitland in the NSW Hunter Valley earlier this month.
The O’Kanes are now pushing for a change to the law to stop others having to go through the same indignity that they went through with the much-loved grandmother of 29.
Anna told the show they were informed that Elizabeth’s GP was unable to come to their home to certify the death, so they had to take her body to the doctor’s surgery themselves – several kilometres away.
The family recorded a video as they were forced to get an undertaker to drive the van with Elizabeth’s body inside to a car park near to the medical practice – where it then stayed for more than an hour.
Comparing the harrowing experience to black comedy film Weekend At Bernie’s, Anna told the show: “But when you’ve got your mother laying there, it’s not something that you want to do.”
Josef bravely spoke on camera too, describing it as “undignified” for his grandmother and also traumatic for anyone passing by at the time. He added: “We just want to see justice for nan and to ensure that it never happens to anybody else.”
“It’s just disgusting in this day and age,” he went on.
According to the current NSW law, a GP must see the deceased in order to complete the cremation paperwork. According to the Mail Online, the NSW Health Policy states that a body can be verified by a registered nurse, a midwife or a qualified paramedic – but a doctor must see them too within 48 hours.
Now, Elizabeth’s family are pushing for there to be clearer guidelines on who can verify a death and in what manner that should occur.
CR Smyth and Sons Funeral Services was hired to transport Elizabeth’s body, and the company’s director Paul Smyth backed the family’s plea, telling the show the legislation needed to “move into the 21st century”.
“Why can’t those nurses say to the doctor, ‘your patient is deceased’?” he said. “Why do they need to see that patient?”
Meanwhile, Funeral Directors Association president Michael Mackay has been pushing for the law to be changed for two decades and he added: “It’s certainly not the extreme, it happens constantly and it’s become the norm… So it’s as simple as changing a form. Why won’t they do it?”
The family’s local MP Jenny Aitchison has hit out at the law and backed them completely, recently saying in a speech: “That is actually the most shocking, abhorrent and disgraceful story I have ever heard.” She has now taken their case to the floor of the NSW Parliament.