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Separated at death: No crypts or mausoleums for coronavirus victims in Quebec

Separated at death: No crypts or mausoleums for Quebec coronavirus
WATCH: Quebec’s public health director contacted all Quebec funeral homes last month informing them COVID-19-positive bodies can’t be put in crypts or mausoleums, which has come as heartbreaking news to many. Global's Amanda Jelowicki reports.

Betty Cabral doesn’t expect her 93-year-old father Jose Cabral to live much longer.

He tested positive for the coronavirus last week. He contracted it at the Centre D’Hébergement de Dorval, the seniors’ residence he has called home for the last four years.

Betty Cabral’s parents started organizing their own funerals a decade ago. Married for 60 years, Cabral’s mother died two years ago.

She’s interred in a family crypt at the Rideau Memorial Gardens and Funeral Home in Dollard-des-Ormeaux.

This week, Cabral contacted the funeral home to finalize arrangements for her father’s eventual burial.

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She was shocked when she was told her father can’t be interred with her mother in their crypt because he has COVID-19.

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“I don’t see where, in all these steps, there would be any contamination to the people, the employees, because they are not embalmed,” Cabral said. “They are sealed over bags, into a coffin then into a crypt. It astonishes me.”

The funeral home’s parent company Arbor Memorial says it has no choice.

“If someone dies due to Covid-19, their remains cannot be interred in a crypt or mausoleum,” senior director of marketing Dustin Wright told Global News in a statement. “We are obligated to follow the law.”

How funeral homes responding to the coronavirus outbreak
How funeral homes responding to the coronavirus outbreak

Last month, Quebec’s public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda contacted all Quebec funeral homes, informing them COVID-19-positive bodies can’t be put in crypts or mausoleums. Quebec’s Burial Act was amended in mid-March to include the illness as an infectious disease that precludes embalming and interment in crypts and mausoleums. They can still be buried in the ground.

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But some question the wisdom behind the law.

“I am really puzzled by that recommendation. I don’t understand it,” said McGill University professor Joe Schwarcz.

Schwarcz, director of the university’s Office for Science and Society, explained there are risks to embalming bodies. A dead body could expel droplets of the virus from the lungs, for example.

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But he sees no risk in interring a body in a crypt.

“I think it’s really, really far-fetched. The virus won’t survive very long so the body is not going to be infected with the virus. I don’t know what that particular precaution is all about. I think that is an overreaction,” he said.

“Once you have put the body into some container, such as a coffin, I don’t see the difference in putting them in the ground or putting them in a crypt.”

The health department did not respond to Global News’ request for an explanation by publication time.

Robots and drive-thrus: how some funeral homes are holding services amid COVID-19
Robots and drive-thrus: how some funeral homes are holding services amid COVID-19

As for Cabral, she hates the idea her parents could be separated in death.

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“I don’t believe this is what we need when someone is going through a mourning process,” she said. “Absolutely morally, morally wrong. Absolutely.”

She doesn’t plan on telling her father. She says it would cause too much stress, imagining his final resting place without his beloved wife.