Too Poor to Die?

By Duane Shank 9-22-2011

800px-Newport_CemeteryEvery time I think I've exhausted my outrage capacity, I see something new to refuel it.

Forty-six million Americans live in poverty and 22 million are unemployed or have less than full-time employment.

Hunger and homelessness are on the rise.

And now comes a new survey of medical examiners, that reports a growing number of unclaimed bodies in morgues around the nation because families can't afford even a minimal funeral and burial for their loved ones.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average funeral in the U.S. costs about $6,560. And this does not include a cemetery lot, a monument or marker, a vault (often required by state law), and miscellaneous expenses such as flowers or obituaries.

As a result, many families simply don't claim the body of their loved one and leave it up to the local government to provide an indigent burial.

A lifelong coroner in Pennsylvania put it this way: "This is the worst that I've seen, and I've been doing this kind of work since the late '60s."

It seems we now live in a society where not only can't people afford to live, they also are too poor to die.

Duane Shank is senior policy advisor at Sojourners.

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