Plan to Start Cremations at Cook County Morgue Advances

Cook County Medical Examiner's Office in 2012 was rocked by leaked photos of bodies stacked in a storage cooler

A plan to cremate bodies at the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office -- rather than let them pile up -- advanced Wednesday after aldermen advanced the measure.

Morgue officials said cremations wouldn't begin, however, until a policy is created and recommendations are received from the Medical Examiner Advisory Committee, which is made up of clergy, community leaders and funeral directors, among others.

The ordinance passed Wednesday allows morgue officials to explore whether it’s cost-effective and feasible to cremate unclaimed or "disclaimed" bodies, according to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office.

Disclaimed bodies are those in which the office has notified family, but they decline or refuse to claim the body. Unclaimed bodies are identified individuals with no known next-of-kin.

Unidentified bodies wouldn't be cremated.

An outside vendor would provide the cremation services. Until a plan is in place, county officials said indigents would continue to be buried at Homewood Memorial Gardens or Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

Preckwinkle’s office said cremation costs from $250 to $300 compared with an average of $480 per person for burials. Urns with the remains would be kept up to two years at the medical examiner’s office and returned to next of kin at the family’s request.

The office in 2012 was rocked by leaked photos of bodies stacked in a storage cooler. An investigation by the Illinois Department of Labor led to more than two dozen violations.
Since then, a series of bosses and other staff have left the medical examiner’s office, including Chief Medical Examiner Nancy Jones. Her replacement, Dr. Stephen Cina, has pushed to upgrade the office’s practices.

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