Do You Own Your Own Body?

 In Death & Funerals

Do you own your own body? If that seems an odd question then perhaps I need to clarify the situation. There is no doubt that you own it whilst you are alive. However, when you die the situation is rather more complex. The Common Law situation is that there is no property in a dead body. If a body is stolen then only the theft of the shroud or jewelry is a crime. Consequently, as you don’t own your body then you cannot leave binding instructions about it’s disposal at death. However, few people realise this. They think that funeral instructions left in a will must be followed. They don’t. The next of kin often do what they think is right and to hell with the consequences. Do you own your own body is not a question many people ask.

The next of kin

Is it me or does the next of kin seem an outdated concept? The next of kin have the right to possession of your body and that seems fair. It arose in the distant past when families were essentially closed units. However, modern life is no longer in sync with closed family life. Consequently, when a young person dies their parent(s) are the next of kin. The fact that that the dead person had a common law partner or were integral to a group, say Goths, can and often is completely ignored by the parents. They, especially if religious, might arrange a funeral to meet their needs rather than the deceased’s. Even worse, a distant relative, say a cousin, can suddenly appear. They, as next of kin, have right of possession of the body, and can do what they like.

Do you own your own body?

The fact is that you don’t own your own body. If this matters to you then you must try to mitigate the damage. The obvious answer is to marry or have a civil partnership. Your partner now usurps those next of kin issues. That is not without a new set of relationship issues. I recall a widow looking down upon her husband’s coffin and stating, “I hope you rot in hell, you bastard.” Without a legal partnership, it is essential to talk to next of kin. You need to be comfortable that they will arrange a funeral to meet your needs and those of your circle. Our social options are wide and few people realise how complex death can be, and the repercussions. A will is essential and that means facing up to mortality. You will die!

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