Monday, February 18, 2019
140,000 people that die per year in the United Kingdom choose to be buried, and with a country that is so weathered with a finite amount of land, the cemeteries are getting crowded. Many towns are cramming, meaning that they are removing benches and trees to make room for more burial plots, as well as reclaiming, there a grave is reopened to bury a person on top of the previous resident - "like a bunkbed." But this may not be enough.
A BBC study in 2013 found that a quarter of England’s local authorities that oversee the majority of cemeteries expected those they managed to be full by 2023. Two London boroughs are no longer providing burials within their boroughs. Burials have increased in price by 70% from 2008 to 2018, and for numerous people have become unaffordable. In Highgate Cemetery in London, the most expensive (and private) cemetery in the country, it costs £19,940 just for the right to dig a grave and another £2,035 for it to be machine-dug.
As many of the living rarely think about cemeteries and their own mortality these problems have escalated to this point. This lack of burial space requires weighing the rights of the dead, as well as those that they leave behind, and asking how far society should go to accommodate the people who still want to be buried. Many religions such as Islam and Judaism strictly forbid cremation so burial is a must.
A solution may be found in grave reuse, where the grave is reopened like reclamation but the remains are redistributed. This is possible only after several decades have passed and the deceased has thoroughly decomposed. But many municipal and private cemeteries do not allow the practice, London does.
See Daniel Cohen, Britain’s Burial Crisis – and How to Solve it, Financial Times, February 8, 2019.
Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.