Non enforcement of law on registration of deaths endangering lives – Doctors

The Ghana Medical Association (GMA) is demanding a strict enforcement of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1965. The GMA believes this is necessary to help save lives.

The law prohibits burial of the dead without a permit from the births and deaths registry. The registry only issues the burial permit after a medical doctor has duly certified the death and issued a medical certificate confirming same.

Section 22 of the act is emphatic that there shall be no burial without a burial permit.

“The owner or manager of an authorised burial ground shall not permit the burial of a dead body in the burial ground, unless a burial permit has been delivered to him,” the law says.

However JoyNews checks at some cemeteries reveal this law is being flouted.

Joseph Opoku Gakpo who visited the Tafo Cemetery in Kumasi for Joy news’ Hotline Documentary “Buried Alive,” reports managers at the Muslim section of the cemetery do not demand burial permits from families before allowing the burial of dead bodies brought in from homes.

Families and community leaders only need to put a call through to the grave diggers to prepare a place, and within hours after death, the dead are brought in and buried without any documentation.

“If the person dies at home and elderly people confirm they are dead, then we go ahead and dig… We don’t demand any certificate, because those old men, they have a lot of experience with these things,” one of the grave diggers told Gakpo.

Doctors fear families risk burying their loved ones prematurely under such circumstances because a confirmation of death could be difficult without medical expertise. The say people in coma usually bear similar characteristics as the dead, and it could be confusing differentiating.

“If someone is in coma state, these persons are not in the position to hear sounds or voices, does not respond to painful stimuli, he does not react to light; in a nutshell, somebody who is in coma and somebody who is dead, there is a very thin line, you would need special skills to be able to differentiate,” Head of the Pathology Department at the KNUST School of Medical Sciences and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, Dr. Paul Poku Sampene Osei said. He fears ignorant families could be burying their loved ones alive.

Indeed, heart-wrenching stories about people who were nearly buried alive highlighted in the documentary, appears to confirm some of these fears.

In one such instance, a Muslim family in Wa had presumed their over 60-year-old father had died, and began arrangements for his burial, including the purchase of a coffin, only for him to wake up.

In another instance at Tafo in Kumasi, a gentleman who was presumed dead after an accident was being taken through the necessary Islamic rituals for burial when he started breathing profusely and had to be rushed to the hospital. His grave was even being dug at the Tafo cemetery.

Deputy General Secretary of the Ghana Medical Association, Dr. Justice Yankson wants Government to enforce provisions in the Act to help avoid situations like this.

“We should be very careful and ensure that we enforce our own bye-laws and legislations on births and deaths as well. The enforcement must be stepped up. Once we have recorded that people are being buried without going through the due processes, it means the system is failing to a certain extent,” Dr. Yankson said.

But the Births and Deaths Registry says it is does not have the needed resources and personnel to help enforce the law.

“Logistics constrain does not allow the registry to pursue those who refuse to do the registry. We don’t have enough personnel to go around changing these things…. So it is something that the Act mandates us to do, but we are constrained in one way or the other,” Acting Registrar, John Yaw Agbeko told Luv FM’s John Teye in an interview.

He is calling on Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies to take control of cemeteries within their jurisdiction to help strictly enforce the law.

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