A general debate on historic stillbirth burials and cremations has been scheduled for Thursday 6 February 2020.

On 16 January 2020, Carolyn Harris MP said that parents of stillborn babies had asked for help to trace their graves, so that they could commemorate their loss.  She asked for a debate in Government time about what those in Parliament could do to help these bereaved parents.

Background

Funerals for stillborn babies and infants

Babies who are stillborn (born dead) after 24 weeks of pregnancy (until 1992, after 28 weeks), or die during infancy, must be buried or cremated. Cemeteries and crematoria are required to keep records of all such burials and cremations.   Babies who are stillborn before 24 weeks (until 1992, before 28 weeks) can have a funeral, although this is not a legal requirement.  According to the charity Sands (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity), “sadly, if your baby was born before 1992 and before 28 completed weeks of pregnancy, there will probably be no record of burial or cremation”.

Burial of stillborn babies

Sands has stated that it was only in the mid-1980s that parents of stillborn babies and babies who died shortly after birth began to be consulted about funeral arrangements for their baby.  Before then, hospitals often took care of funeral arrangements, without the involvement of parents.  Babies were sometimes buried in shared graves and many parents were not told what happened to their baby’s body.

Infant cremation

Separately, there have been problems connected to infant cremation.  At a time when there was no statutory definition of “ashes”, parents received ashes only from some crematoria.   There have also been cases where parents were told that no ashes would be recovered, whereas in fact there had been ashes, which were sometimes disposed of without the parents’ knowledge.

There have been a number of reports on infant cremation, all of which made recommendations, following which action has been taken to address problems which they identified.  A Commons Library briefing paper provides further information, Infant cremation.

Further reading