A state law is preventing the parents of stillborn twins from fulfilling their wish of having the babies cremated together. The News & Observer reports on the plight of Dan and Kristin Christensen, whose babies shared an amniotic sac but died in utero at 22 weeks of gestation. The Andersons desire the babies not to be separated, as they were not separated in the womb.

The problem they face is a state law, one that isn’t unusual, that states that “The simultaneous cremation of the human remains of more than one person within the same cremation chamber is forbidden.” One can easily imagine why such a law exists. With no exceptions allowed by law, however, a crematory that deviates is at risk of losing its license. Part of the state crematory inspection requires asking if the cremation chamber has been used for simultaneous cremation.

There is a bill before the General Assembly addressing the issue. A provision in House Bill 529 would allow for simultaneous cremation “upon the express written direction of the authorized agent” either of “The human remains of multiple fetuses from the same mother and the same birth” or “The human remains of triplets up to the age of one year old from the same mother and the same birth.”

Unexpected controversies

Since the other states have the same law, they have also faced similar controversies. And whereas the Anderson family’s babies made it to 22 weeks, many states (including North Carolina) draw the line at 20 weeks’ gestation for when a miscarriage is considered a stillbirth and the parents can receive a certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth. The Thomas More Society considers North Carolina one of the “Silent States” regarding parents’ rights in this issue, meaning we offer the least protection in law as to whether parents of miscarried children may bury them (or by extension, cremate them). Miscarried children prior to 20 weeks’ gestation are otherwise generally treated as medical waste. The More Society praises “Notification States” such as Indiana that direct hospitals et al. to notify parents of their ability to bury their miscarried children.

While such a provision would seem to be sensible and benign, it can draw opposition from abortion advocates because it detracts from the narrative of the unviable tissue mass. Families grieve the loss of unborn babies and seek ways of bringing closure. For the Anderson family, it is cremating their babies without separating them, as they have never been separated. WNCN reports today of the Alexander family who have chosen to honor the memory of their stillborn son by donating a Cuddle Cot to WakeMed to allow other grieving families to spend time with babies who passed away.

Texas has a provision in law allowing for simultaneous cremation. It is similar to what is proposed in HB 529, although it ends at “unless authorized in writing by the authorizing agent of each deceased person.” Here is an interesting Vice article on the issues involved in dealing with the remains of miscarried and stillborn babies, including about how the Texas law came about and the testimony in favor of it.