Repatriation of human remains following death in international travellers

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Abstract

Background: Death during international travel and the repatriation of human remains to one’s home country is a distressing and expensive process. Much organization is required involving close liaison between various agencies.

Methods: A review of the literature was conducted using the PubMed database. Search terms included: ‘repatriation of remains’, ‘death’, ‘abroad’, ‘tourism’, ‘travel’, ‘travellers’, ‘travelling’ and ‘repatriation’. Additional articles were obtained from grey literature sources and reference lists.

Results: The local national embassy, travel insurance broker and tour operator are important sources of information to facilitate the repatriation of the deceased traveller. Formal identification of the deceased’s remains is required and a funeral director must be appointed. Following this, the coroner in the country or jurisdiction receiving the repatriated remains will require a number of documents prior to providing clearance for burial. Costs involved in repatriating remains must be borne by the family of the deceased although travel insurance may help defray some of the costs. If the death is secondary to an infectious disease, cremation at the site of death is preferred. No standardized procedure is in place to deal with the remains of a migrant’s body at present and these remains are often not repatriated to their country of origin.

Conclusions: Repatriation of human remains is a difficult task which is emotionally challenging for the bereaving family and friends. As a travel medicine practitioner, it is prudent to discuss all eventualities, including the risk of death, during the pre-travel consultation. Awareness of the procedures involved in this process may ease the burden on the grieving family at a difficult time.

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