Legislation which aims to provide a modern framework for burials and cremations in Scotland has been supported by the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee.
However, to ensure that historic poor practices are never repeated, the Committee has called for clarification and amendment to strengthen a number of important provisions.
Duncan McNeil MSP, Convener of the Health and Sport Committee said:
“The loss of a baby is one of the most heart-breaking things that can happen to a parent. So the poor historic practices at some crematoria that resulted in parents not knowing what happened to their baby’s ashes has had a long lasting and devastating impact on the parents and families affected.
“Whilst we welcome the legislation, this Committee has concluded that there are several key provisions within the Bill that need to be strengthened to make sure that this never happens again.
“It was clear to the Committee that the needs of the woman who has experienced the loss of a pregnancy or baby need to be placed firmly at the centre of this legislation.
“This is why we are calling on the Scottish Government to ensure there is flexibility within the legislation in order to meet the very personal circumstances and needs of women.”
In its stage one report on the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill, the Committee has concluded the following:
- The Committee has concerns that the definition of cremation, by referring to grinding and other processes’, may not adequately enable bereaved families to understand that cremation may include cremulation. We therefore seek clarification from the Scottish Government of how this will be made clear to bereaved families so that those who do not agree with this process can take an informed choice about whether to proceed with cremulation.
- We welcome the Scottish Government’s agreement to set out their policy on the disposal of ashes by cremation authorities on the face of the Bill.
Making arrangements for pregnancy loss
- The Committee welcomes the Scottish Government’s consideration of whether the definition of pregnancy loss applies to embryos and what guidance will be given to NHS staff about the relevant requirements in the Bill;
- Given the range of circumstances in which a woman may lose her pregnancy, we consider it is important that the timescales in the Bill for decision-making and disposal of remains are flexible to take account of situations where a woman may desire to make decisions quickly for cultural or other reasons, as well as for women who may be unable to make decisions in the recommended timescale;
- The Committee also considers that, in circumstances, where an authorised individual does not wish to make arrangements for disposal of pregnancy remains, the Bill should provide a mechanism for giving further consideration to the wishes of the woman who experienced the loss.
Making arrangements for still-births on the death of a child
- The Committee seeks confirmation from the Scottish Government of how the role of the healthcare provider could be strengthened in relation to supporting the woman making arrangements for a burial or cremation in cases of still-birth;
- We also welcome clarification from the Scottish Government of whether the Bill should be amended to allow the health authority to act in circumstances where the woman has no family, or whose family is unwilling to make any arrangements;
- The Committee also seek clarification from the Scottish Government of who should be able to make arrangements in circumstances when a woman undergoes medical termination after 24 weeks.
- The Committee would welcome clarification of whether completing the form on behalf of an applicant will constitute an offence. If this is the case, the Committee would have concerns and reservations, unless false and misleading information had been provided on the form.
- The Committee seeks clarification from the Scottish Government of what action it is taking, or has taken, to ensure that all women who experience the loss of a child or pregnancy are directed to appropriate support services.
Inspection and enforcement
- The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government consider whether a range of sanctions to be applied by the inspectors could be set out on the face of the Bill.
- The Committee also seeks clarification from the Scottish Government as to how inspectors will undertake their inspection role in relation to health authorities.