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Illinois pauper burial policy criticized

Feb. 18, 2011 at 4:30 PM

CHICAGO, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- As many as 26 fetuses and stillborn babies of Illinois mothers unable to afford burials have been buried in single pauper's coffin, authorities said.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart called the burial, supervised by the Office of the Cook County Medical Examiner, "horribly offensive" and called for reforms in the way remains of the state's poorest and most helpless residents are treated, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday.

Indigent and unidentified dead are being stacked eight deep in unmarked taxpayer-funded plots, he said, so vaguely recorded that bodies could never be found, possibly hampering police investigations.

"From a law enforcement standpoint, we were disturbed," Dart said of the discoveries, which came following a 2009 investigation of grave desecrations. "From a human standpoint, we were absolutely appalled."

Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Nancy Jones responded by saying her staff "respectfully" placed multiple baby remains in a single adult coffin.

County spokeswoman Jessey Neves said the "remains were treated with respect and fit easily" into the casket.

Dart acknowledged he has worked closely with Jones and that he "in no way holds her responsible," but added "I find it horribly offensive ... these mothers signing their fetuses away for indigent burial weren't properly informed."

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