Dignity for the dead

IN Newcastle, sick people can sit about for hours in a general practice surgery waiting to see a doctor.

So it’s no surprise that hard-pressed GPs aren’t keen on taking time out to visit funeral parlours to certify the identity of dead people.

Their argument, that the needs of the living must come before those of the dead, is hard to deny.

One might also wonder whether owners of corporatised medical practices have much enthusiasm for the idea of employee doctors abandoning their cash-generating posts to perform less remunerative tasks like signing death certificates.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that a deceased person’s ‘‘treating doctor’’ must certify the identity of their former patient.

Some other medical officer, or a registered nurse in a nursing home, may have pronounced ‘‘life extinct’’, but without formal identification by the patient’s own doctor the funeral planning processes come to a standstill, with all the inconvenience that entails.

Reluctantly, funeral directors are dealing with the problem by carting bodies around the city so that GPs can do the necessary formalities with minimum loss of time.

That’s obviously not ideal. It is, for a start, profoundly disrespectful to the dead person and to their families.

In a perfect world, the supply of doctors would more closely match the demand for their services, enabling doctors enough time to fulfil their obligations to their deceased patients.

That is far from the case in Newcastle, however.

Perhaps, in the brave new world of a broadband-enabled community, these identifications might be achieved remotely – although even that possible solution could be fraught with problems of its own.

Many doctors do go to considerable trouble to attend funeral parlours – often after-hours – to view bodies and do the required paperwork. Increasing numbers, however, are baulking at the task, creating the tensions now becoming apparent.

It is not easy to imagine an easy solution that will suit everybody while retaining the safeguards the system is intended to provide. For the time being, the best that may be hoped for is that doctors, funeral directors and families recognise each other’s problems and needs and strive to make the best compromises they can.

REPORTS that Newcastle City Council is to address the chronic shortage of public toilets in the city will be welcomed by many. A recent reduction in rest rooms has prompted many complaints, with some people suggesting they may be dissuaded from visiting the city as a result.

Public toilets are a mixed blessing, of course. Vandalism and a variety of other antisocial or confronting activities can bedevil these facilities, involving ratepayers in much expense.

But these problems, while very real and challenging, can’t justify failing to provide what is, after all, one of the most fundamental of public services.

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