Lawful and Decent Burial

This morning I was struck by the words used in the charge against Hans Rausing, the failure to ensure ‘lawful and decent burial’ of his wife’s body. It is a sad, sad case, but those words reminded me of something I think we sometimes tend to forget: the immense dignity of the human body. Religious people often wax eloquent about the body, indeed we have a whole theology of the body, but it takes the law, our wonderfully messy, imperfect, civil law to express what I suspect most of us believe deep down, even if we would not describe ourselves as religious: that the human person is uniquely privileged and deserves respect even after death. We are not so much organic rubbish to be left to moulder away: lawful and decent burial is our right, and by extension, the duty of all of us to provide for others.

Of course, we cannot stop there. If the dead body is worthy of reverence, what about the living? The unborn? Those of the ‘wrong’ sex? Those who don’t appear to us to have what it takes to sustain a ‘good quality of life’? The late Lord Denning famously observed, ‘Be you never so high, yet the law is above you.’ This morning I feel like adding, no matter how arrogant we may be, the law reminds us of the limits of our power.

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