Jeremy Laurance: Think the cost of living is high? Try the cost of dying

It was my aunt’s misfortune to die on Maundy Thursday, less than 24 hours before the longest bank holiday of the year. She had donated her body to medical science and for the last 30 years of her life talked of little else. But when the day came, her donation was, maddeningly, refused.

“We offer our condolences at your sad loss,” said the voice on the answer machine at the London medical schools’ anatomy office. “We regret we cannot accept any donations over the weekend.”

The reason was immediately clear. To be fit for presentation to a bunch of young medical students beginning their study of anatomy, a body must be preserved fresh. Even if kept in the hospital’s refrigerated mortuary, it starts to decay within days. Five is the maximum the anatomy department allows.

That left my uncle and me facing a dilemma. My aunt had counted on the dissection slab to deal with her mortal remains. She had made no other plans. |In recent years, her life had revolved around hospitals. On return from her frequent visits, she would describe, with relish, how she had “lent her body” to the medical students. She loved it when they failed to establish her diagnosis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). It was like winning a round of cards.

She was not religious and had no interest in a funeral. She was from a generation that disliked expense and didn’t like “fuss” – funerals involved both.

My uncle and I discussed what to do. We agreed to go for the simplest option, |in accordance with what we believed would have been her wishes. I began making enquiries.

I phoned six funeral directors and asked them to quote for a cremation. |In London, a 45-minute slot at a crematorium costs around £500, but if you are prepared to accept an early morning appointment – 9am or 9.30am – the charge drops to less than £200.

In addition, you must pay the fees of two doctors to confirm the death, amounting together to £147. This iniquitous and unavoidable charge has been known as “ash cash” to generations of junior doctors, who count on it as a useful supplement |to their income. The signatures are required, and the bill must be paid, even when, as in my aunt’s case, the patient dies in hospital.

The quotes I received from the funeral directors ranged from £1,500 to £2,000. I did some arithmetic. Allowing £200 for the cremation, £150 for the doctors’ signatures and £150 for a cardboard coffin (at cost) came to £500 in all. The task for the funeral director was to collect the body from the hospital – St Mary’s, Paddington – and take it to the crematorium (Golders Green, Marylebone, Islington or – the cheapest – Mortlake).

For the living, the cost of this journey by taxi would be about £30. For the dead, it turns out, it is £1,000.

Dead unlucky, you could say. Next time, I plan to hire an estate car, buy a coffin and do the job myself.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

    £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

    £13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there