CHICAGO | The Cook County Board on Wednesday supported using cremation for indigent people whose burials would otherwise have to be paid for by county government.
County commissioners discussed the idea while meeting as a Finance Committee, then later approved the Finance Committee report without further discussion when they met as a full County Board.
Medical Examiner Stephen Cina appeared before the County Board on Wednesday, telling them how he and his staff had thoroughly reviewed the proposed ordinance introduced in July.
He said he supports the idea of increased use of cremation to dispose of the remains of indigent people.
“We will be showing respect for the dead,” Cina said.
Under the ordinance, the medical examiner’s office would have full discretion to decide when the body of a person who has not been claimed by family can be cremated, rather than buried.
The ordinance says that at least 60 days must have passed from the time of death until a decision can be made to cremate the remains or 90 days in the event the indigent person in question is a military veteran and there is a chance that a veteran’s funeral benefits can be applied.
In no cases will any unidentified bodies be cremated, according to the ordinance, which also says that ashes from people who are cremated by the county will have to be stored for at least two years in case someone comes forth to claim them.
After that period, the medical examiner’s office can decide to dispose of them, “in accordance with applicable laws and regulations,” the ordinance reads.
Currently, the county has a contract with Homewood Memorial Gardens in unincorporated Thornton Township to handle burials of indigent people. That contract will remain in effect for instances where the county has to bury remains of people.
County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, said he is pleased with the change.
“It brings Cook County into the modern era,” Suffredin said.
The issue of indigent burials cropped up when news accounts showed excess numbers of bodies stored at the medical examiner’s office on Chicago’s West Side. Reports said there was a backlog of burials.
Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski, D-McCook, said he thinks Cina has done a good job with this issue and others in terms of reducing the body backlog for the medical examiner’s office.
“He stepped into a firestorm, and he helped calm it,” Tobolski said of Cina.
In other business, the County Board also marked Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, with a resolution, while also opening their meeting with prayers by Catholic, Jewish and Muslim clergy.