Should Parents Bury Miscarriage Remains?

Two years ago, Cecelia McGregor had a miscarriage. She was 10 weeks into her pregnancy.

But today the 29-year-old nurse and mother of two from Minooka, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, says she is still fighting to obtain what’s left of the remains of the baby she named Angelica Rose from the hospital where she had a procedure to remove the dead tissue that remained in her womb after she miscarried.

She says she has been struggling with Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center, in Joliet, Ill., to get what she calls the “products of conception,” some of which she thinks the institution still may possess, so the remains could have a proper burial.The hospital refuses to comment, citing patient confidentiality

McGregor is part of a small but growing movement of parents and healthcare professionals nationwide who are demanding hospitals give parents the option of burying or cremating remains left from a miscarriage. McGregor says she had asked nurses and laboratory technicians about what would happen to the tissue after her procedure, but could not get any information.

States Address Older Fetuses

While most states, like Illinois, only give parents choice in the disposition of the remains after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a few states, such as Massachusetts, require hospitals to tell parents they can control the burial or cremation of remains after any stage of a pregnancy loss. Funeral homes handle the arrangements. Parents in the Bay State also can ask the hospital to handle the remains, which may or may not bury or cremate the remains.

But in the majority of states, contents of the womb prior to 20 weeks of gestation would be handled like medical waste. Hospitals incinerate the material as they would tumors or gallstones.

Experts say some parents are becoming more attached to developing fetuses these days than they were decades ago. There are a number of reasons — technology such as ultrasound and in-vitro fertilization has called unprecedented attention to developing human life, as have the efforts of the anti-abortion rights movement. As a result, parents experiencing miscarriages are experiencing grief from them more acutely, and are seeking rituals to give them comfort. Approximately 500,000 miscarriages occur in the United States each year.

More Attachment To Early Life

Cathi Lammert, executive director of the National Share Office, in St. Charles, Mo., a group that began more than 20 years ago to provide services to those who suffer pregnancy loss, says more people are seeking counsel about commemorating miscarriages. “There may be even more people who feel this way but are fearful of discussing it,” Lammert says. “Those who do, take comfort in putting the remains to rest reverently.”

David Walkinson, a spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association, of Brookfield, Wisc., says he also is working with an increasing number of parents requesting burial or cremation for miscarriage remains.

“Twenty years ago there would be quiet graveside ceremonies for older stillborns,” Walkinson says. “Now people have grown more attached to their babies earlier. Some people experience an enormous amount of sadness when they lose the pregnancy and want a cemetery service of some kind.” Many funeral homes offer their services to such families without charge, he says.

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