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cash in hand before they will make any arrangements for local burial, cremation, or preparation and shipment of a body. Because of the high expense involved, this attitude is especially troublesome when the next of kin opts for embalming and shipment of the remains. The problem of obtaining funds quickly for transfer abroad is especially difficult when the death notification cable is received over a weekend when banks and other credit institutions are closed.


In calendar year 1977, the most recent period for which accurate and complete statistics are available, 6,584 American citizens died in foreign countries, exclusive of Canada.1 Of that number, the remains of 4.516 were buried locally; the bodies of 366 were cremated and the ashes returned to the United States; and the remains of 1,702 were embalmed or otherwise prepared and transported to the United States. Almost all of those whose bodies were buried locally were permanent residents of the locality, most of them naturalized American citizens who had returned to their native countries to live out their lives in retirement, usually beneficiaries of a social security check or some other annuity from the United States. The large proportion of local burial of American citizens who die in Greece, Italy, Mexico, Israel, and Poland reflects this social phenomenon. Many native-born Americans have also chosen to retire abroad and when they die, many of them are buried locally, for example, in Mexico, Spain, Germany, France, and Italy. The expense of preparing and shipping to the United States the bodies of these two categories of people has little or no bearing on the next of kin's choice of burial place. Almost all of the 1,702 American citizens who died abroad in 1977 and whose bodies were returned to the United States were tourists, businessmen or their dependents, contract workers, students or seamen. It should be noted that some countries, for example, Saudi Arabia, where thousands of American workers and their dependents reside, require by contract that companies doing business there return the bodies of their deceased employees and their dependents to the United States at the companies' expense.

In reply to a recent Department query, approximately 250 U.S. diplomatic and consular posts abroad estimated that of the 4,516 American citizens who died in their consular districts in 1977 and whose bodies were either buried or cremated and disposed of locally, the bodies of only 173 might have been returned to the United States had U.S. Government loans been available for this purpose.


The cost of disposition of remains varies widely from country to country depending on charges for embalming, caskets, lead and zinc containers, local fees for death certificates, burial permits, burial plots, crémation charges, transit permits, export licenses and air freight

Funeral directors in Canada normally make arrangements directly with their American Counterparts for the shipment of deceased Americans' bodies to the United States. Our Embassy and consular posts in Canada rarely become involved in any way in the disposition of the remains of American citizens who die in that country and hence no reliable statistics are available on this subject. None of the figures cited in this report, therefore, includes any data on American deaths in Canada.

charges. It should be noted that the costs cited below were those prevailing as of April-May 1978. Due to the decline of the dollar in world markets since then, today's costs would be higher in some countries.


The cost of a medium-priced local burial, with a moderately priced casket, in the 10 foreign countries where the largest number of American citizens died in 1977 was as follows: West Germany $1,400, Mexico $1,075, U.K. $1,000, Norway $740, Israel $700, Italy $700, Ireland $550, France $500, Greece $500, and Spain $400. The lowest cost for a burial was $100 in Niger and the highest $1,700 in Argentina.


Cremation facilities are not available in many countries, and in some countries cremation of a human body is illegal. In those countries where cremation is permitted and facilities are available, the costs range from $1,180 in Switzerland to $80 in Burma. The average cost of cremation worldwide is about $550.

The cost of shipping the ashes of a cremated body to the United States depends in large part on the weight of the container, (cardboard box, wooden box, cast iron urn, brass urn, et cetera) and the distance from the point of origin to destination in the United States. The cost of shipment of ashes in a strong wooden box from any place in the world to any place in the United States is less than $100.


There are three major factors in determining the cost of returning a body from a foreign country for burial in the United States: Embalming or other preparation of body charges; purchase of the required metal container and casket; and airfreight charges. This last, airfreight charge, is fixed by the Civil Aviation Board and international air transport agreements. Distance and weight determine the cost of shipping a body from abroad. A shipment to New York weighing 220 kilograms (440 lbs.) cost the following in the spring of 1978 from the 10 countries where the largest number of American citizens died last year: West Germany $1,112, France $1,000, Italy $889, Israel $840, Greece $750, Norway $680, United Kingdom $608, Spain $600, Ireland $500 and Mexico City $300. According to the Chief of the Tariffs Division, Office of International Air Transport Rates and Fares, Civil Aeronautics Board, who at the request of the Department recently reviewed international airfreight rates for shipping human remains, these rates are reasonable and do not warrant a revision at the present time. Rates for shipping human remains within the United States were also recently reviewed, found to be somewhat high and reduced accordingly.

The greatest variation in costs among foreign countries is for embalming and other preparations of the remains for shipment, including cost of the casket, ranging from $300 in India and Nepal to $2,987 in Zaire as of May 1978. In most Western European countries these costs range between $1,200 and $2,000, e.g., France $1,500, West Germany $1,800, Greece $1,200, and Spain $1,620. On the other hand, the cost of these services in Italy is $750 and in the United Kingdom, $608.

Casket and metal container costs also vary widely. In many of the less developed countries of Asia and Africa polished hardwood caskets are not available so that bodies must be shipped in plain wooden boxes, costs of which range from $50 to $150. In the more advanced countries of Europe and Latin America, caskets of polished hardwood with brass fittings are priced at $2,000 or more. Less expensive caskets are available in the $400 to $1,000 range in most advanced countries. In some of the more primitive countries no metal containers are available so that bodies must be transported to a neighboring country for encasement and transshipment to the United States.

While the costs of embalming and casketing a body are very high in many countries, airfreight charges often account for 50 percent to 15 percent of the total cost of shipping a body to its destination in the United States. For example, in Australia the preparation of the body and cost of the casket are under $1,000, while the shipping cost is $1.350.


(a) Individual cases

The expense of arranging for the disposition of the remains of American citizens who die abroad places a heavy financial burden on the bereaved families of the deceased, especially if the embalmed remains are returned to the United States. While the Department and its Foreign Service posts have no real control over local mortuary Costs or international airfreight rates, consular officers do monitor local mortuary and burial costs and each post must file a "Disposition of Remains" report annually. Our consular officers instruct local mortuaries to use the least expensive casket that meets international shipping requirements unless the family in the United States instructs the consular officer to do otherwise.

The Department of State and its posts abroad assess no fees for use of telecommunications facilities for transmission of death notification cables, for disposition instructions from families to posts, for transfer of funds, or for any consular services related to arranging for the disposition of remains, preparing the consular mortuary certificate, handling payment of the expenses incurred, or completing and forwarding to the next of kin the official report of death. Any unexpended portion of the funds deposited for the disposition of remains is returned to the depositor.

At the present time, Department of Defense regulations do not permit the use of aircraft under its control to transport the remains of private U.S. citizens who die abroad except when commercial airfreight facilities are not available and when a determination is made. that shipment on a Government aircraft would be in the national interest. Such determinations are rarely made.

(b) Major catastrophes

In only two recent instances has the U.S. Government departed from the above established norm: (1) The Tenerife Pan Am-KLM air crash in March 1977; and (2) the Jonestown, Guyana tragedy in November 1978. In each instance there were a large number of casualties (over 500 in one and over 900 in the other) and a massive problem

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of identification of remains for which commercial and local government facilities were inadequate. In these two catastrophic emergencies, the U.S. Government acted under the constitutional authority of the President as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief of the Armed. Forces in utilizing the equipment and facilities of the Department of Defense. In the Tenerife case, the air carrier and its insurers reimbursed the U.S. Government for its expenses, and in the Guyana instance the Department of Justice is taking all possible legal steps to recover the costs incurred from assets of the People's Temple here and abroad.


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The Department does not have legal authority to make loans to families of Americans who die abroad to assist in arranging the disposition of remains of the deceased. Were the Department to be granted such authority by the Congress, an executed promissory note would have to be obtained from the next of kin or legal representative of the deceased and witnessed by another American citizen, or in lieu of actual receipt of the promissory note, assurance by telephone or cable from a reliable source that a promissory note had been duly executed and witnessed. The Department has identified several alternative procedures by which this might be done:

(a) Administrative cooperation of the U.S. Postal Service

In this alternative the death notification cable would inform the next of kin or legal representative that if he or she could not obtain, within the time frame required by local regulations, from his or her own resources or some other private source the amount of money required to dispose of the remains as desired, the next of kin or legal representative should go to the nearest U.S. Post Office and execute a promissory note for a U.S. Government loan for the amount needed for this purpose. An authorized postal official would identify the person as the next of kin or legal representative, witness the signing of the promissory note and notify the Department by the fastest means available (phone or cable) that the note had been executed for such and such an amount. Thereupon the Department would authorize the consular officer abroad to proceed with making arrangements for the disposition of the remains in accordance with the family's wishes. As soon as possible the postal official who witnessed the signing of the note would send the. original and one copy to the Department of State. Collecting the loan would be the responsibility of the Department's Office of Finance.


There is a U.S. Post Office in some 40,000 localities throughout the country and every American citizen has easy access to at least one of them. That the witness to the execution of the promissory note would be a U.S. Government official would be a plus both because of his or her reliability and because in many cases the witness would have access to U.S. Government-leased telephone and/or cable lines.


After studying this proposal carefully, the postal officials most knowledgeable about such matters came to the conclusion that for the following reasons it would not be practical or feasible for the U.S. Postal Service to undertake this service:

1. Each of the 40,000 post offices in the country would have to stock the promissory note forms, and each of them would have to have designated at least one ranking official to become familiar with the program and to witness the signing of the promissory note. This would require an extensive educational program.

2. Many of the post offices would never have occasion to witness such a promissory note; many others might have an occasional case, perhaps "once in a blue moon"; and others would have a few cases a year. The work and expense involved in the distribution of forms, designating the postal officials with authority to perform this service and educating them, would be disproportionate to the number of cases processed.

3. Most of the post offices throughout the country are not open evenings and very few of them are open weekends. Moreover, in most cases the person authorized to witness the promissory note would have to be the postmaster; in larger post offices, some other ranking official would have to do it. These people do not normally work evenings or weekends, and it would be very difficult to contact them for the required service when they were not actually on the job. In view of the emergency nature of the required service and the overriding considerations of urgency, the postal system could not make the program work due to the unavailability of the designated official at all times. 4. This promissory note service is quite different from the passport acceptance service which the Postal Service now performs for the Department: This latter service is performed at only about 800 post offices, it is performed exclusively during normal post office hours, most postal clerks can perform it, and there is no emergency involved requiring immediate action.

While all four of the post office experts' observations appear to the Department to have relevancy, that relating to the unavailability around the clock of an official who could witness the execution of a promissory note is the most telling. As noted earlier, the very nature of the Department's services in death cases requires urgent, immediate action. It does not appear the Postal Service is in a position to serve as a link in the chain of rapid actions that must be taken to perform this service with the required degree of expedition.

(b) Administrative cooperation of local American funeral directors In this alternative, the funeral director in the locality where the next of kin or legal representative resides would perform the services that a postal official would perform in alternative (a) above: Stock the promissory note forms, witness the execution of the promissory note signed by the next of kin or legal representative, notify the Department of State by fastest means available when the promissory note had been executed, and promptly forward the signed original and one copy of the note to the Department. In this alternative, the death certification cable would inform the next of kin or legal representative that the local funeral director would perform this service if a U.S.

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