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North Carolina law forbids fetuses from being cremated together

After their first pregnancy – twin girls – ended in a stillbirth last week, all Dan and Kristin Christensen wanted was to have the remains cremated and to bring their babies’ ashes home. Their simple, sorrowful hope has turned into desperation as the Apex couple find themselves caught between their desire to have the babies’ remains cremated together and a state law that prohibits the cremation of more than one set of remains at a time. In the womb, the babies were an anomaly, sharing a single amniotic sac, Dan Christensen said. Christensen said the family has received conflicting information about whether the fetuses were removed separately or whether their remains were combined as a result of the medical procedure or during handling afterward. Either way, he said, the family wants the remains to stay together now. 

So even if pathologists could – or already have – separated the two sets of fetal remains, no funeral home or cremation service in the state can legally cremate them at the same time. Stephen Davis, executive director of the N.C. Board of Funeral Service, which governs the operation of North Carolina’s 750 or so funeral homes and about 135 permitted crematory services, said the law is clear on the issue of a joint cremation and that a crematory has no discretion to make exceptions, even in a case such as the Christensens’. Tanya Marsh, a professor of law at Wake Forest University who has a special interest in funerary law, said the statute most likely was crafted in the interest of protecting consumers from unscrupulous funeral home or crematory operators who, to save money, might have wanted to cremate more than one set of remains at a time. Legislators were aware of the issue before Christensen and his family began calling them to ask for help. 

Last year, four lawmakers, at least three of whom work in the funeral industry, sponsored House Bill 529, which would, among other things, allow the simultaneous cremation of multiple fetuses from the same mother and the same birth, with express written direction. It also would apply to the remains of triplets up to the age of 1 year from the same mother and the same birth. Christensen said that a local funeral home had offered to donate a burial plot if he and his wife choose to bury the remains, but he said they don’t want a burial, in part because they are not North Carolina natives and they don’t know whether they will always live in the state. 

Keywords: [“remains”,”Christensen”,”funeral”]

Advanced Issues in Family and Divorce Law

RICHARD GANTT is an attorney with the Rosen Law Firm, where he has extensive experience in family law. He practiced divorce law at several of the premier matrimonial firms in Chicago, including Berger Schatz and Rosenfeld Hafron Shapiro & Farmer. She is a North Carolina board certified specialist in family law and is certified as a family financial mediator by the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission, a branch of the North Carolina court system. Ms. Payne concentrates her practice on family law issues, such as divorce, child custody and support, property division, and spousal support, with an emphasis towards resolving these issues through alternatives, like mediation, designed to minimize conflict for the family. 

She also assists her clients with will preparation, family law appeals, and adoption. Ms. Payne earned her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and her J.D. degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law. MILAN T. 

PHAM is a partner of NicholsonPham, PLLC, a boutique law firm located in Durham North Carolina, with a growing practice in unique issues of family formation and dissolution, including surrogacy, assisted reproductive technology and adoption. In addition to managing her firm, she is a member of the National Family Law Advisory Council of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and serves on the boards of Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc, Lillian’s List and the LGBTQ Center of Durham. Ms. Pham earned her bachelor’s degree from North Carolina State University and her J.D. degree from the University of North Carolina. 

ROBIN E. STRICKLAND is an attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she focuses her practice on family law, adoption, parent coordination and child protective services. She trains attorneys, judges and paralegals through continuing legal education courses offered by the North Carolina Indigent Defense Services, UNC School of Government, the Court Improvement Project of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, and the Family Preservation Law Center. She earned her B.A. degree from North Carolina State University and her J.D. 

degree from the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University. 

Keywords: [“Carolina”,”law”,”North”]

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