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Funeral director slams ‘inhumane’ Covid-19 body bag practice

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ANGER Ballina-based undertaker David McGowan said the practice of putting victims of Covid-19 in bodybags and not allowing their family to see their remains was 'inhumane'.

Oisín McGovern

A Ballina-based funeral director believes the practice of not allowing families to say goodbye to Covid-19 victims has ‘caused awful, untold damage that cannot be repaired’.
David McGowan, who is the director of McGowan’s Funeral Home, said that putting victims in body bags and not allowing families to see the body is ‘inhumane’ and ‘unnecessary’.
Mr McGowan cited guidelines from the HSE, the American Centre for Disease Control, the European Centre for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation, which say that body bags aren’t required for Covid-19 victims.
McGowan, who is a founding member of the Professional Embalmers Association of Ireland, has embalmed and cared for Covid-19 victims and their families since the start of the pandemic.
“The most important thing for me, and I’ve been preaching it all along, is the person who can’t speak for themselves,” he told The Mayo News. “We have to maintain the dignity of the deceased at all times. I know families all around Ireland who didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones, and I feel that didn’t have to be. You have to remember that some people didn’t get into to see the person for two weeks before they died.”

‘Scaremongering’
Mr McGowan was adamant that he wasn’t being ‘careless and reckless’, explaining that he has strictly followed guidelines for embalming Covid-19 victims and that he organised training for embalmers before the pandemic struck. He also encouraged those with underlying conditions not to embalm Covid-19 victims.
He continued: “Tony Holohan said on March 10 that the measures the IAFD [Irish Association of Funeral Directors] were implementing were unnecessary. We heard the horror stories. We heard the story about the boy in Dublin who had to climb a tree to look in the window to see his Dad for the last time. We heard Christy Dignam on the Late Late Show saying he went to the hospital car park and two nurses brought [his father] to the window and he waved and they all knew that was the last time they would see him.
“There were no rules, they were opinions. The guidelines are there. We get our information from the CDC, the European CDC, the WHO, and the HSE. In every one of their statements, they mention a body bag is not required. When they mentioned their reports, they said that a body bag is not required. I felt there was a lot of scaremongering.”

‘Protect the living’
Mr McGowan said that while restrictions on numbers at funerals have made the grieving process difficult for families, he fully supports the lockdown measures.
He said: “We have to protect the living. People over the age of 65 and with underlying medical conditions are vulnerable to picking this up. The ban on public gatherings has definitely, stopped the spread of this virus. We must look after the living but we must also maintain the dignity of the deceased.
“A friend of mine in Castlebar, Carol Donnelly, has an underlying condition. She wrote a book called ‘Dying to Live’, and when I see crowds I think of her. It was very important and it was a good measure to bring in the lockdown.”

Heart-wrenching stories
Mr McGowan, who is also a director at Foley and McGowan’s Funeral Home in Sligo town, appeared on the Claire Byrne show last Monday night. Since then, he says he has received floods of letters and phone calls.
“I had a woman crying to me on the phone from Donegal. Her sister had a shop in a town, and the two of them lived together. Her sister died with minor Covid-19 and they put her into a body bag and into a coffin and up to a graveyard to bury her, and they wouldn’t let her go [to the funeral]. And you know what she said to me? ‘I believe there was a big crowd on the street as the hearse was passing’. I said, ‘Were you not there?’. She said, ‘They wouldn’t let me out’.”
“A family rang me from Cork, and they told me when their dad died, the undertaker went into the hospital with two body bags, sealed the coffin, brought the coffin out to the front garden, got the priest to say a prayer outside the wall and went straight up to the graveyard. Then they told them they can’t use that grave again because they don’t know how long the virus lasts.”
In response to questions from The Mayo News, a spokesperson for the Irish Association of Funeral Directors said: “Following recent media speculation regarding the relaxation of the current processes and procedures for the removal and burial of the deceased during the pandemic, the Irish Association of Funeral Directors guidance to members, in respect of coronavirus, is that they should continue to adhere to Funeral Director’s Guidance as set out by HPSC (Health Protection Surveillance Centre) on March 12, 2020.”
HSPC guidelines issued on April 14 state a bodybag is not needed for Covid-19 victims.