By Constantinos Psillides
UNREGULATED funeral homes result in a loss of the revenue for the state to the tune of €2 million annually, claims a representative for funeral home owners, who also said public health was in danger from infectious diseases when the bodies of infected deceased persons were not properly handled.
The funeral home industry in Cyprus is largely unregulated. In December 2013 the House was discussing a bill that puts in place legislation governing their operation, as well as clearly setting the standards for hygiene, the type of equipment needed, personnel certification and proper body handling procedures.
Some funeral home owners – those who had asked for the industry to be regulated in the first place – upgraded their business as stipulated in the proposed bill.
Gregoris Kyriakides, owner of the Kimisis funeral home, and the representative of funeral home owners, was supposed to appear last Thursday at a meeting of the House interior committee to discuss the legislation. The discussion was postponed.
“The bill made it to the House because we insisted on it and lobbied for it. We want proper regulation in place so that bodies, and by extension their mourning relatives, are treated with respect,” Kyriakides told the Sunday Mail. He said that of the 30 funeral homes currently operating on the island only five were up to standard.
“The most horrid, disrespectful things take place in these unregulated funeral homes. I’m talking about bodies being transported in cardboard boxes and treated by illegal immigrants who get paid €5-€10 per day and have absolutely no training and no idea how to handle a body. They don’t even wash the bodies before burying them sometimes. Basically, anyone with a van can throw a sign on his house and open up a funeral home.”
The funeral homes in question are free to charge less for their services since they haven’t invested any money in upgrading their equipment, explained Kyriakides.
Kyriakides also claims that the problematic funeral homes strike deals with old age and medical facilities to notify them first when someone dies.
“Around €6m is spent annually on funerals. The lion’s share of that money goes to these funeral homes, which by the way don’t bother paying income tax or corporate tax. We estimated that the state loses €2 mil a year on unpaid taxes.”
Kyriakides slammed priests in particular, saying that in a number of parishes across the island the priests have struck exclusive deals with certain funeral homes and refuse to allow others to operate in their jurisdiction. “I have sent a letter to the Archbishop informing him of this,” he said.
Kyriakides is also concerned with public safety. “My question is this: What on earth will happen if these untrained, unskilled people have to deal with a body that has an infectious disease?,” he asked.
He said he was recently contacted by a hospital in Vienna about a body sent to the island for burial. The deceased had an infectious disease and the hospital issued a number of guidelines for handling the body, even going as far as to instruct Kyriakides to ask police for two squad cars to accompany the hearse.
“When I asked why, they told that it was to evacuate the site in case of an accident. This is the lengths Europeans go to when it comes to dead bodies and infectious diseases. Why do we, as a state, have not a single rule in place? This is unacceptable.”
The funeral homes bill seems to be stalled because of the accompanying cremation legislation. Cremation in Cyprus is impossible – since there are no licensed crematoriums – to the displeasure of many expats residing on the island.
The Church fiercely opposed cremation during House discussions, citing religious reasons. While the Church conceded that individual wishes should be respected, they have warned that they would refuse to perform funeral rites for those opting for cremation. Another snag for the bill is a police request that all bodies are burned at a government-run crematorium, so as to avoid criminals getting rid of evidence.
The last time the cremation bill was discussed in the House was last March, with MPs saying that the bill needed some amendments, chiefly a provision to ensure that cremation is a conscious decision made during one’s life, not a decision taken after death by the deceased’s relatives.
DISY MP Andreas Kyprianou had told the Cyprus Mail that the legal services would work on the bill and have it back for discussion in two weeks time. That, was six months ago.
Cremation is of course an option now, but only for those who can afford it.
“I get around five calls a month from people requesting that their deceased are cremated. I have to ship the bodies to Bulgaria, which costs around €5,000. You can guess how many people go for that option,” Kyriakides said.
The funeral home owner says that he is all for cremation to be allowed, explaining that the deceased’s dying wish should be respected and not rejected based on religious grounds.
DISY MP Nikos Nouris, who sits in the House interior committee, told the Cyprus Mail that the legislation is stalled because there are a lot of parameters to be considered. “For example, the fact that the Church won’t perform funeral rites is in my opinion extremely significant. We must find a way for all to compromise,” he said.
The House gave no indication as to when the matter would be discussed again.