Health Ministry and Justice Council measure authorizes burials without death certificates

Civil society organizations challenge the ministerial order and note that the rule has no period of validity


On Monday, April 30, the CNJ (National Justice Council) and the Ministry of Health published Joint Ministerial Order No. 1/2020 that permits, as an exceptional procedure during the Covid-19 pandemic, the burial and cremation of people without a death certificate.

Opposed to the measure, nearly 100 civil society organizations signed a technical statement identifying problematic points that conflict with the determinations of the IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights), a body of the Organization of American States.

One of the problems identified by the organizations is that the ministerial order does not have an expiry date, meaning that it could remain in effect even after the pandemic, thereby increasing the underreporting of the disease and impacting the possibility of crafting policies to combat the virus.

The Death Certificate is a document registered in the Information System on Mortality of the Public Health System – it defines natural deaths in three ways: with medical assistance; without medical assistance with a doctor present; and occurring in places without access to medical assistance. In the second two groups, the certificates have an essential function, since they confirm the death and establish the cause of death, and they also ensure the collection of materials from unidentified corpses. Additionally, the certificate provides information on the health of the general population, by identifying groups that are susceptible to certain types of diseases.

The statement signed by the organizations explained that, by not requiring compliance with death certificate requirements, the ministerial order puts at risk documents that, as a rule, permit technical staff to identify missing dead people, particularly given the overwhelming demand from hospitals at the moment.

According to the organizations, “the groups for which the Joint Ministerial Order is intended, i.e. unclaimed identified bodies and unidentified bodies, should be referred to the SVO (Death Verification Service), which will conduct an examination to determine the cause of death and collect physical and genetic material, thereby making identification possible at a later date”.

In addition to permitting the burial of unknown bodies, the measure undermines efforts to combat the coronavirus. Given the precariousness of its provisions to regulate the documentation of unidentified bodies and unclaimed identified bodies, it comes up against the weakness of the system of testing for Covid-19 in Brazil. As such, the statement warns of the “possible destruction of evidence and cover up of violent crimes”.

The statement signed by organizations from various sectors of society points out that the ministerial order creates a setback in the field of human rights using the Covid-19 pandemic as justification. The measure runs counter to the concept of centrality established by international bodies such as the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission.

 Read the technical statement in full here.

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