The wife and three children of a man from east Trinidad, who passed away while receiving treatment for the COVID-19 virus, last week, have been given the green light to view his body before mandatory cremation.
On Sunday, attorney Gerald Ramdeen, who is representing Yasmin Ali, the widow of Rajcoomar Ali, wrote the Office of the Attorney General indicating that she and her children were denied limited access despite there being provisions for such under the “Guidelines and Recommendations for Hospital Staff and Funeral Agencies in the context of COVID-19.”
In the document, which was published at the start of the Government’s intensified efforts to limit the spread of the virus locally in March, relatives are allowed limited access under strict conditions.
The body is to placed in a specialised viewing or mortuary area by members of staff with proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
Besides sanitising before and after enter the area, relatives, who may view the body one at time must wear surgical masks and cannot touch the body or come within three feet of it.
The entire body would not be exposed but rather the attendant on duty will unzip the body bag to reveal the deceased face.
“Permission will be given to use electronic media to stream images to the bereaved for not more than a minute,” the document said.
In a response sent, yesterday morning and obtained by Guardian Media, the Attorney General’s Secretariat indicated that Ali and her children’s request would be facilitated and that the funeral home handling his body had been instructed to hold up on disposing it, until the process is completed.
The time for the viewing was not finalised in the letter as the Ministry of Health would have to coordinate such with the family.
It also noted that while the State had acceded to the request for a last viewing, it had not conceded on Ramdeen’s assertion that guidelines should be incorporated into ongoing public health regulations.
While Ramdeen admitted that the policy was needed in the circumstances, he suggested had the method of introduction meant that citizens’ constitutional rights were being infringed.
“This would clearly infringe upon the rights of the estate of the deceased and the persons who are required to perform certain religious rights in disposing of the body. Such action would clearly be unlawful and illegal in the present circumstances,” Ramdeen said.
He went on to suggest a method of correcting the perceived error.
“While this (request for viewing) is being carried out I undertake to not to institute proceedings in the High Court to allow you, instead of retaining Senior Counsel and a battery of attorneys from the private bar to seek an adjournment from the High Court at the expense of the taxpayer, to hasten the staff at the office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel and put in place new regulations that would have the force of law, perhaps in the same terms as the present “Guidelines and Recommendations for Hospital Staff and Funeral Agencies in the context of COVID-19.”
According to the legal correspondence, Ali’s husband, a diabetic, went to the Sangre Grande District Hospital on August 27 and complained of feeling unwell.
He was warded and the following day was transferred to the Couva Medical and Multi-training Facility-one of the main facilities being used by the Ministry of Health in its parallel health care system for addressing the pandemic.
While the family claimed that they received limited updates on his condition, they alleged that on September 3, they were informed his condition worsened and that he would be transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the new Arima Hospital.
They were then informed that he would not be transferred as he was intubated and placed on a ventilator in the High Dependency Unit at the Couva facility.
They claimed that there was some delay in performing dialysis on Ali, who was also suffering from kidney failure but it was eventually done, last Monday.
Ali passed away the following day.
Ali’s relatives made the request last Friday, but were initially denied.
Relatives of former Sea Lots businessman and community leader Cedric “Burkie” Burke, who alleged tested positive for the virus and passed away late last week, have also signalled their intention to pursue legal action if they are unable to have a private autopsy performed on his body before disposal.
The Ministry of Health has agreed to release his medical records for the family and their medical experts to consider before pursuing their intended request.