For thousands of years, the expectation and right that humankind should be permitted to bury its dead and honor their memory without interference has been recognized by civilizations everywhere. Indeed, one of the most moving passages in ancient literature comes to us from Homer’s Iliad, which describes the pain and anguish experienced by King Priam when he is deprived of the body of his warrior son Hector, slain in revenge by the wrathful Achilles.
On December 15, 2008, RGGL will be arguing the appeal of a case where a New York hospital callously disposed of the remains of a premature fetus, despite the fact that the parents had made it known that they wanted to make burial arrangements for their daughter, whom they named "Destiny." Not only were the parents devout Catholics, but the baby’s father was also a Chief of the Ibo Tribe in his native Africa. According to the family’s tribal beliefs, clippings of the baby’s hair and fingernails had to be transported to their Tribal Burial Ground, or the child’s spirit would be doomed to wander the earth forever—-never at peace. To this date, the whereabouts of the infant’s remains are unknown.
After a jury trial before Justice Hutcherson, where the hospital took the position that they could do whatever it chose to do with the child’s remains because of low birth weight, a Brooklyn jury award total damages to the parents of $2,000,000 for their emotional harm caused by the loss of their right to bury and honor their daughter ( such harm being called "loss of sepulchre.")
The hospital is now appealing that verdict, claiming that New York State does not recognize the right to bury one’s dead in such circumstances, and that the jury’s verdict was excessive.
Before the trial took place, the attorneys for the hospital had made the same argument regarding "loss of sepulchre" to another judge in Brooklyn under the facts of this case. We look forward to proving them wrong once again.