IT IS hard to think of a more heartbreaking scenario for a bereaved young mother or father.
Already having to come to terms with death of a baby – a harrowing experience of intense loss – they then have to face the realisation that the disposal of their baby’s body has been mishandled. Instead of a baby’s ashes being returned to the parents, they have instead been scattered by a stranger, with little or no ceremony.
To have a full appreciation of what the baby ashes scandal means on a human level, one must try to imagine – even just a little – the mindset of the bereaved parents. Some keep every scrap of evidence of their baby’s short life – every item of clothing, every toy, every blanket – as treasured keepsakes. For them, these items are physical testimony to the existence – albeit brief – of their child. For those parents to realise that they have been deprived of the opportunity to have their child’s actual remains, to dispose of in a way they saw fit, is heartbreaking. These mothers and fathers have been denied a chance fully to give expression to their grief, and that is tragic.
The Mortonhall Crematorium revelations that sparked this scandal were the result of a landmark piece of investigative journalism by our sister paper, the
Edinburgh Evening News. Through dogged detective work and a deep respect for the suffering of the parents involved, it uncovered a catalogue of administrative foul-ups and flawed practices that failed to afford proper and due respect to either the babies or their parents.
Now it is clear there are equally searching questions to be asked of other crematoria around Scotland. It is, therefore, welcome news that the Scottish Government is setting up a commission to amend the law to tighten the regulations governing this fraught and difficult area. This should help ensure bereaved parents in the future do not have to go through the same ordeal.
But does the official response go far enough? Yesterday, there was criticism from the Labour opposition at Holyrood that although the commission will look to the future, across the whole of Scotland, not enough is being done to examine the past.
The inquiry into the Mortonhall scandal led by the former lord advocate Eilish Angiolini is – while welcome – limited in its scope, both geographically and in terms of who it can compel to give evidence.
While it will, hopefully, ensure that parents in Edinburgh get answers about what happened to the ashes of their children, parents in other parts of Scotland can be forgiven for wondering what attention is being paid to their experience, and whether they will ever know the truth.
The SNP government, quite rightly, says it wants there to be “clear and consistent” advice on cremation across the whole country. Surely there is, therefore, also a case for a clear and consistent national approach to errors committed in the past.
All our hopes pinned on panda passion
AS THE Edinburgh Zoo pandas enter their second mating session on Scottish soil, it sometimes seems as if we know far more about their procreation habits than is decent. The most causal observer of goings-on on Corstorphine Hill could probably give Sir David Attenborough a run for his money on the details of Tian Tian’s fertility, or Yang Guang’s exercise regime as he limbers up for his annual date.
We are kept fully informed on Yang Guang’s bamboo feeding frenzy, building up his strength for the sexual act, and on Tian Tian’s mood as she awaits the opening of the door between their enclosures. The latest news from the zoo is that the cameras in the pandas’ enclosures have been switched off to afford the cuddly couple a little privacy. We must be thankful for small mercies.
Never, since Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd played their will-they, won’t-they game in the TV series Moonlighting in the late 1980s, has there been so much speculation about whether a famous couple will have sex. Will this be the year they finally get it on? Will their union herald the patter of tiny furry paws? Is the world to witness a genuinely Scottish baby panda, with a passport to prove it, and – obviously – a good old-fashioned Scottish name?
And how big will the disappointment be if, yet again, this year their amorous encounter comes to nothing? It is of course an irresistible urge to anthropomorphise this lovable pair.
But that works both ways. Yes, we can suggest the keepers play some Barry White to get Yang Guang in the mood, but let’s hope that next week Tian Tian isn’t endlessly replaying her Adele CDs.