MSPs warn new babies' ashes laws must be strengthened

New laws drawn up in the aftermath of the Mortonhall baby ashes controversy must be strengthened to prevent a repeat of the scandal, MSPs have warned.

Parents were not told babies ashes were buried at Mortonhall. Picture: Greg Macvean

Greater sensitivity is being called for in dealing with women who have just suffered the loss of a child in pregnancy amid concerns some were asked to make decisions while in “no fit state” and under sedation.

Revelations that staff at the Edinburgh crematorium had buried the ashes of babies for decades without informing the parents prompted widespread public anger. It later emerged this had been widespread across Scotland.

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The Scottish Government has now set out proposals to tighten up procedures through the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill. Holyrood’s health committee has backed the bill, but warns that changes are needed to avoid future instances where bereaved parents are left in the dark.

Committee convenor Duncan McNeill said: “There are several key provisions within the Bill that need to be strengthened to make sure that this never happens again.”

Key concerns centre on women who have just lost a pregnancy and may be “incapacitated” while making decisions to meet timescales in the new laws. MSPs want to see greater flexibility in the new regime to deal with this.

It follows harrowing evidence from Glasgow mum Cheryl Buchanan who lost her child in 2004 and never recovered the ashes.

She told MSPs: “I had been sedated shortly beforehand for a procedure related to the pregnancy.

“At no point were the forms explained to me; up until 2013 I was sure I had never signed any cremation forms so it came as a shock to me to see my signature on them.

“Even if they had been explained to me, I was in no fit state to sign legal documents and was still sedated, so would not have been able to give my informed consent.”

MSPs also warn that the new cremation application form is expected to state that ashes sometimes won’t be recovered from a cremation. The health committee says this is “not in keeping” with maximising the recovery of ashes.

There are also concerns over the definition of “cremation”, because this could also include cremulation - often known as grinding - which may not meet with the approval of faith groups.

Mr McNeill added: “The loss of a baby is one of the most heart-breaking things that can happen to a parent.

“So the poor historic practices at some crematoria that resulted in parents not knowing what happened to their baby’s ashes has had a long lasting and devastating impact on the parents.”