Bioethics Blogs

Death From Ebola: What do we do with the deceased?

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

In the United States in the year 1900, 52.6% of all deaths were due to infectious disease. the number one cause of death. When these patients died, a family member, friend, or member of a burial society washed their bodies and cleaned them. Their families held wakes and funerals in their homes, often laying out the body in the parlor. They would all go to the cemetery and the body would be buried in a family grave. In 2010, the most recent year for which records have been released, the number one cause of death is heart disease (31.9%) followed by cancer (30.9%). Influenza and pneumonia are a distant 8th leading cause of death at 2.9%. If a person dies in a hospital, IV lines, tubes and other medical devices will be removed and the body will be washed of blood and iodine. An autopsy is likely to be performed. These deaths will be followed by memorial services and celebrations in funeral homes. Many of them will feature viewings of the body that have been embalmed by mortuary professionals and made up to look like a picture of life. They will be buried and cremated and a very few will even be turned into diamonds or blasted into space.

For 2014, the number of deaths caused by Ebola will not appear as even a blip in the statistics. Influenza and pneumonia are the only infectious diseases that break the top ten causes of death and that is a small percent. Only 1 person has died of Ebola in the United States and about 4,500 worldwide.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.