Nov 29, 2018

Grandmother’s Body Kept in a Panel Van at Doctor’s Convenience

A NSW family has been left reeling after circumstances that saw them have to load their dead grandmother into a panel van in order to have her death certified.

Elizabeth O’Kane, 71, died peacefully at her daughters home in the NSW Lower Hunter Valley on Tuesday night, after a long battle with cancer.

Unfortunately, circumstances that followed her death resulted in a traumatic experience for her family and an undignified final farewell to the grandmother of 29.

Ms O’Kane’s family attempted to summon a doctor to the family home in order to certify the 71-year-old’s death, but were told repeatedly that it was not possible, and that they would need to transport her body to the doctor’s surgery instead.

The family were forced to place the body of Ms O’Kane into the panel van of a local funeral director, and transport her to a car park outside of the Market Place Medical Center in Rutherford.

It was here, on the side of the highway, and in full view of a supermarket and skate-park, where a doctor climbed into the back of the van and inspected the body of Ms O’Kane.

Sadly, the doctor mistakenly thought that he could detect a heartbeat, which lead to a second doctor being called outside to the van to verify the woman’s death, and finally bringing this debacle to an end.

Ms O’Kane’s daughter Anna described how she felt her mother would have viewed the events on A Current Affair. “ I think she would be mortified that she was carted around in the back of van at the doctor’s convenience,” she said.


Why Did This Happen?

In Australia, 80% of us are now electing to be cremated.

In all Australian states, If a person dies at home or in a nursing home, a doctor, nurse or paramedic, are all able to certify a death, but in NSW, a GP must sight the deceased in order to complete the cremation paperwork.

This specific need for doctors verification has resulted in a shocking number of these types of incidents occurring in the state of NSW on a weekly basis, resulting in Australian families who are trying to grieve, having to endure a humiliating end to their journey with a loved one.

In this case in particular, Ms O’Kane’s grandson, Josef Krausert-O’Connor, said that the family had arranged for his grandmothers normal doctor to come over when she died to certify her death.

Unfortunately though, her doctor was in Sydney at the time of her passing, and he happened to be the only GP from the local practice who made home visits. 

As horrifying and rare as this incident may sound initially, Michael McKay from the NSW Funeral Directors’ Association told A Current Affair that he actually saw 7-8 deceased people a week treated in the same way as Ms O’Kane.  

The story of this harrowing ordeal also caught the interest of Ms O’Kane’s family’s local MP Jenny Aitchison, who has since taken this case to NSW parliament.

Speaking on A Current Affair, Ms Aitchison said that Ms O’Kane’s case was ‘the most shocking and abhorrent thing I have ever heard.’

She then added: ‘It’s not the right way to treat those who have passed. We should make sure we honour family’s loved ones and not just toss them aside.’

It’s hard to fathom that demoralising incidents like these are occurring frequently on Australian shores.

Especially when you consider that fact that every state except for NSW has legislation in place that expands the number of people able to legally certify death, thus, making verification of death more readily available to grieving families.

The process after death can be a particularly difficult for families of the deceased, and all Australians require legislation that should make the legalities surrounding these situations as easy as possible.

We only get one final goodbye, it should always be a dignified as possible.

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