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The 191st General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Section 43M: Permanent disposition of dead bodies or remains

Section 43M. Except as otherwise provided by law, or in case of a dead body being rightfully carried through or removed from the commonwealth for the purpose of burial or disposition elsewhere, every dead body of a human being dying within the commonwealth, and the remains of any body after dissection therein, shall be decently buried, entombed in a mausoleum, vault or tomb or cremated within a reasonable time after death. The permanent disposition of such bodies or remains shall be by interment in the earth or deposit in a chamber, vault or tomb of a cemetery owned, maintained and operated in accordance with the laws of this commonwealth, by deposit in a crypt of a mausoleum, or by cremation. The remains of a human body after cremation may be deposited in a niche of a columbarium or a crypt of a mausoleum, buried or disposed of in any manner not contrary to law. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, a funeral establishment in possession of the cremated remains of a human body which is not claimed by a next-of-kin or duly authorized representative within 12 months after the date of cremation may have the remains interred or placed in a common grave, niche, or crypt in a cemetery, or scattered in an area of the cemetery designated for that purpose; provided, however, that if the deceased is a veteran of the United States Armed Forces the deceased shall be interred at a veterans' cemetery. Each cemetery and funeral establishment shall maintain permanent records of such disposition. There shall be no liability for a funeral establishment, cemetery or crematory, or any employee or agent thereof that disposes of unclaimed cremated remains in accordance with this section. Each municipality or cemetery corporation shall maintain records which identify the name, if known, of the dead human body or remains in each burial lot, tomb or vault under its control. No deposit of the bodies or remains of the human dead shall be made in a single chamber, vault or tomb wholly or partly above the natural surface of the ground unless the part thereof below such surface is of a permanent character, constructed of materials capable of withstanding extreme climatic conditions, waterproof and air tight, and capable of being sealed permanently to prevent all escape of effluvia, and unless the part thereof above the natural surface of the ground is constructed of natural stone of a standard not less than that required by the United States government for monuments erected in national cemeteries, of durability sufficient to withstand all conditions of weather.

Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary and for the purposes of this section, a board of health may serve as the duly authorized representative for the purpose of requesting cremation of unclaimed remains by signing a cremation form under the following circumstances: (i) the unclaimed remains shall be in a location that is within the jurisdiction of the board of health; (ii) the board of health has received notice from a licensed funeral director that either no person has come forward to claim the remains or that no person may legally claim the remains; provided, however, that the board of health shall wait 30 days after such notification under this clause prior to signing the cremation form. The unclaimed remains shall then be viewed by a medical examiner or forensic investigator designated by the chief medical examiner pursuant to section 14 of chapter 38, who shall authorize such cremation only when no further examination or judicial inquiry concerning the death is necessary. The office of the chief medical examiner may waive the fee set forth in said section 14 of said chapter 38 for cremation authorizations pursuant to this section. There shall be no liability for a board of health or an employee, agent, or licensee thereof that authorizes the disposal of unclaimed remains in accordance with this section. Nothing in this section shall supersede the obligations of the office of the chief medical examiner as set forth in this chapter and chapter 38.