A memo released late last month by Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Nancy Jones reported that the bodies of individuals whose families cannot afford to bury them will now be automatically donated to science, rather than buried by the state.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Monday that the memo's directives, released Sept. 27, were effective immediately. It is unclear whether other counties in Illinois will follow Cook's lead.
The news arrives after funding largely dried up for the state's indigent burial program this summer. The program, which provides assistance to families who need help providing a proper burial for their deceased loved ones, was funded in 2011 at $12.6 million -- an amount used, that year, to provide for around 12,000 basic funerals and burials.
In his proposed budget for fiscal year 2012, the Associated Press reports that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) slashed the program to zero dollars, while the General Assembly decided, instead, to restore $1.9 million in funding for the program.
That amount did not cover the full year. In August, the Illinois Department of Human Services contacted participating funeral directors and said it could only guarantee funding through the 15th of that month, as NBC Chicago reported. Many directors otherwise willing to perform the burials are now left with few options besides leaving the body with the medical examiner. Many faith leaders have also opposed the cuts.
Januari Smith Trader, a spokeswoman for the state DHS, which facilitates the indigent burials, told The Huffington Post that the General Assembly was responsible for the program being essentially dismantled. Trader did not respond to a question concerning Quinn's original budget, which allocated no money to the program.
"The state of Illinois is experiencing an unprecedented financial crisis here, so [this program] is not alone in receiving less funding," Smith Trader said, "but the decision on how much money to give to this money was not made by the governor but it was made by the General Assembly."
When asked if she was optimistic that funding for the program could be restored in the upcoming veto session in Springfield later this month, Smith Trader said, "My opinion really doesn't matter."
"The bottom line is that they did not appropriate enough funding for the program," she continued. "We're not alone in having our hand out hoping for additional funding."
At any rate, the new policy will not apply to all unclaimed or extremely impoverished bodies. As CBS 2 reports, when a person's remains are decomposed, if the person had AIDS or was HIV-positive or weighed more than 300 pounds, their bodies will be buried by the county as in the past.
Some of those previous practices were brought into question by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart earlier this year, when he learned of practices which included the burial of 26 fetuses and stillborn babies in a single coffin. County Commissioner John Fritchey has also pushed for new, better standards for how the county handles the burials of the poor, unclaimed or otherwise unknown.