Under the Public Health Regulation 2022 (the Regulation) the Secretary can grant approval for the body of a deceased person to be kept for longer than permitted (5 days since the date of death for non-funeral directors and 21 days since the date death for hospitals) subject to conditions.
Funeral directors and families are encouraged to collect the bodies of deceased persons from hospitals as soon as possible. However, there are circumstances when this is not possible (for example, if the next of kin and relatives are overseas).
Also, the culture, beliefs, and religious practices of deceased persons and their families are important considerations in granting approvals to keep bodies of deceased persons for longer than allowed under the Regulation.
A person who is not a funeral director is allowed to keep the body of a deceased person for up to 5 days after the date of death (section 80 of the Regulation).
A hospital is allowed to keep the body of a deceased person in a hospital mortuary for up to 21 days after the date of death (section 80 of the Regulation).
Hospital mortuaries are designed for the short-term storage of a limited number of bodies of persons that pass away in hospitals. Accordingly, hospital mortuaries should not receive and store the bodies of deceased persons that pass away outside of hospitals (that is, in the community).
Further information about the requirements for hospital mortuaries is available in the Australian Government Department of Health, National Pathology Accreditation Advisory Council, ‘Requirements for the Facilities and Operation of Mortuaries’ (Third Edition 2013).
The Secretary may approve the body of a deceased person to be kept for a longer time than permitted in the Regulation. This power is delegated to the Local Health District Public Health Unit Director (Public Health Delegations Manual delegation PH297 page 8.56).
A person can apply to the local public health unit (PHU) for approval to keep a body for a longer time than allowed in the Regulation. The application needs to include the following information:
The approval process ensures that there is no public health risk or unacceptable deterioration or decomposition of the body of the deceased person caused by keeping the body for a longer period.
The PHU grants approvals and the conditions that apply, and if the application is refused, the reasons for refusal.
The Secretary may in some cases grant a general approval for the bodies of deceased persons to be kept for a longer time than allowed in the Regulation. Usually this would apply to exceptional circumstances such as multiple deaths arising from a:
A general approval would only be issued for a specific time and subject to conditions.
The person wishing to keep the body of a deceased person for longer than permitted needs to provide an appropriate reason(s) and relevant supporting information for consideration by the PHU.
The culture, beliefs, and religious practices of deceased persons and their families are important considerations for granting approval.
Extenuating circumstances, such as the need for interstate or overseas relatives to attend the funeral, may also be reasonable grounds for approval.
The PHU considers the reasons and supporting information given by the applicant on a case-by-case basis.
The following information about the condition of the body and its storage needs to be provided by the applicant to the PHU for consideration.
The condition of the body is an important factor to consider and if the body has deteriorated and appears to be unfit for further retention, and/or continued storage may prejudice public health and amenity, then permission should not be granted. Conditions that contribute to deterioration of a body, such as whether a body is stored under refrigerated conditions, or has not been embalmed, are important considerations in an approval.
Authorised Officers may need to make additional enquiries to ensure the request to keep a body for longer than permitted will not cause a potential health risk. The Authorised Officer may conduct an inspection of a premises to confirm that the conditions for storage of the body are suitable.
In some cases, the Authorised Officer may request that the body of the deceased person is examined by a forensic pathologist to determine whether the body can be stored for a longer period, and the storage conditions that are needed to maintain the body in an acceptable condition.
Whether the body has been embalmed is a matter for consideration when determining if an approval may be granted. If the body is to be fully arterially embalmed an opinion of a qualified embalmer about the state of the body needs to be sought, as a deterioration in the condition of the body will adversely affect the efficacy of embalming.
The person applying to keep the body of a deceased person for longer than permitted, must be able to demonstrate that the body will be kept in a suitable facility under refrigeration at a temperature between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius. In some cases, it may be appropriate to allow a body to be kept at an unrefrigerated premises or a home if ambient conditions will not lead to deterioration of the body. The premises or location where the body is to be kept should also be secure.
The proposed date of interment is an important factor in determining body retention. If the time between death and interment is considered excessive and the retention of the body may prejudice public health and amenity, then permission should not be granted.
An approval for keeping a body for longer than permitted under the Regulation must be in writing. The approval is granted by the local health district PHU where the body of the deceased is to be kept. For further information please contact the local PHU.
The approval procedure is as follows.
An application must be completed and sent to the PHU for approval. The following information should be provided and considered when granting approval to keep a body:
An Authorised Officer under the Public Health Act 2010 completes a record to recommend approval, or refusal, by the Public Health Officer or PHU Director under delegation from the Secretary.
Under the Regulation the Secretary can grant approval for the body of a deceased person to be kept for longer than permitted (5 days since the date of death for non-funeral directors and 21 days since the date death for hospitals) subject to conditions.
The following conditions may be appropriate for an approval to keep a body for longer than allowed under the Regulation. However, applications need to be considered on a case-by-case basis and other appropriate conditions applied.