CHICAGO | Cook County commissioners went on a summer break Wednesday with a weighty issue to contemplate — should the medical examiner's office be permitted to cremate the remains of indigents?
Commissioners Elizabeth Doody Gorman, R-Orland Park, and Jeff Tobolski, D-McCook, presented the County Board with an ordinance that would give the medical examiner discretion to cremate the bodies of some people that go unclaimed by family.
The ordinance, which was sent to committees for further review, will come up again some time in September. The board does not meet at all during August; its next scheduled meeting is Sept. 11. The ordinance does not specify which bodies should be cremated.
"The Medical Examiner, in his/her sole discretion, shall cause the unclaimed body or the remains, to be decently buried, cremated or donated for medical science purposes," the proposed ordinance reads.
Under the proposal, the medical examiner would not be able to approve cremation of a body until after 60 days had passed from the time next of kin were notified, or 90 days in cases in which the deceased is a U.S. military veteran and a military funeral is an option.
Once cremated, the remains would have to be stored by the medical examiner for two years to allow the option of the family claiming the ashen remains. Only then could the county dispose of them.
The ordinance specifies that only intact bodies could be considered for cremation. It also says that in instances where county officials believe that some religious conflict exists, cremation could not be considered as an option.
Supporters of the change say they think cremation could be a more cost-effective way of dealing with indigent burials. Currently, the county pays Homewood Memorial Gardens in unincorporated Thornton Township $480 per person to bury the bodies in accordance with the law.
The law does not specify who would do the cremation, as it says the county would have to put it up for bid should the County Board approve the ordinance. Officials would not specify on Wednesday how much of a savings cremation could be for the county.
Also on Wednesday, the County Board was presented with a resolution to accept a donation from Wenta Monument Co. of a black granite headstone as a monument to the indigent who are buried at Homewood Memorial Gardens.
In other business, the County Board approved a series of resolutions by various communities asking for No Cash Bid packages, by which ownership of large tracts of vacant land can be turned over to municipalities at no cost, enabling them to work with developers to fill the space.
Among the communities that had requests in to the County Board were Burnham, Calumet City, Chicago Heights, Ford Heights, Glenwood, Lansing, Lynwood, South Holland and Steger, along with a plot in unincorporated Thornton Township near Riverdale.