The Public Health Law will be amended to make cremation a legal way of disposing of human remains.
Cabinet Minister Arden McLean made the announcement Thursday while responding to a private member’s motion brought by Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush concerning the shortage of burial chambers on Grand Cayman.
‘We’re in the process of rewriting the law to facilitate cremation,’ Mr. McLean said.
Speaking after the debate, Mr. McLean admitted that he personally did not want to be cremated and that the concept is somewhat taboo to many Caymanians. But he acknowledged that cremation was a personal choice and that some people want their remains disposed of in that way.
‘We’re not talking about having government do this, but making it legal for someone else to do it,’ he said. ‘Once someone starts, I think [the idea of cremation] will catch on more and more people will choose it.’
Currently, to have someone who dies in Cayman cremated, their body has to be shipped to Florida, which is very costly. Mr. McLean said that he understood the cost a recent cremation of a body sent from Cayman to Florida was about $8,000.
The topic of cremation came up in Mr. Bush’s motion because of the dwindling amount of burial space in Grand Cayman, particularly in West Bay.
Mr. Bush suggested the government give immediate consideration to different types of burial methods, including putting two caskets in one vault and above-ground burial chambers.
In addition, Mr. Bush’s motion asked the government to consider purchasing additional properties suitable for use as cemeteries.
Mr. Bush said burial space at the West Bay cemeteries at Northwest Point and Boatswain Bay is very limited.
‘The main cemetery in West Bay is a lot more problematic,’ he said. ‘There is no more property available for expansion [to either side].’
Mr. Bush suggested the government buy the land next to the West Bay fire station across the road from the cemetery.
‘It’s swamp and would require to be filled – it’s expensive – but I don’t know where else,’ he said.
Another suggestion made by Mr. Bush was that government allow, subject to regulations, private citizens who own land to offer burial plots.
‘I don’t see any reason for government not to allow it,’ he said.
Mr. Bush said the government needed to address the issue.
‘The fact is the population has grown and continues to grow,’ he said. ‘And the other fact is there a need because we won’t be here forever.’
In responding to Mr. Bush’s motion and debate, Mr. McLean said he had long recognised the issues concerning the disposal of human remains and that he had spoken of it many times since he became minister.
‘The ministry staff and I have worked very hard to alleviate the problem,’ he said.
Mr. McLean said only two districts in Grand Cayman did not have sufficient burial space for the foreseeable future, namely West Bay and Bodden Town.
‘It’s not that I failed in my responsibility; it’s just that in those two areas we’ve had great difficulties finding land that was suitable for this purpose.’
Based on the current death rate of 4.3 deaths per 1,000 people per year, Mr. McLean gave statistics on how long West Bay’s cemeteries could accommodate more burials.
He said that at the Boatswain Bay cemetery, there was capacity – based on single vaults – to last until the year 2058. The cemetery at Northwest Point had capacity until the year 2021, he said.
However, the main cemetery in West Bay will reach capacity by 2011 he noted.
On Mr. Bush’s suggestion, Mr. McLean said he had Lands & Survey create a report concerning buying the 11.7-acre property next to the fire station for use as a cemetery.
‘I can’t make the decision [to buy the property] from my ministry,’ he said. ‘It has to be a policy decision.’
In addition to the purchase price, Mr. McLean said the government would also have to bear the cost of filling the property, but that if it did acquire the land, it would serve the burial needs of West Bay for a very long time.
For the long-term solution of burial space, Mr. McLean said a paradigm shift was necessary that involved non-customary ways of interment. Those ways included double vaults, he said.
Mr. McLean said the funeral homes were on board with the idea and a pilot programme would be started for double vaults during the financial year that starts next week.
Another burial method discussed was above-ground chambers.
‘I know it’s done elsewhere in the world, but I don’t particularly like that unless it’s just two or three feet above ground,’ Mr. McLean said. ‘But certainly, we can take a look at it.’
Mr. McLean also said he had no problems with considering having private enterprise cemeteries ‘as long as it is understood it must be done in the proper manner and regulated by the Department of Environmental Health’.
The idea of a national cemetery that would be public-private partnership had been suggested to Mr. McLean recently, he said. While not endorsing that particular proposal, he encouraged private sector involvement in cemeteries.
‘The more others do, the less that will have to be done by government,’ he said.