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March 23, 2020 4:54 pm

UK Government Amends Emergency Coronavirus Bill to Ensure Jewish and Muslim Burial Practices Are Respected

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Illustrative. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The British government on Monday amended a bill granting emergency powers to combat the coronavirus pandemic so as to safeguard religious burial practices, drawing praise from both Jews and Muslims.

The so-called “Coronavirus Bill” originally gave medical professionals the ability to override the religious beliefs of the deceased and their survivors in regard to the treatment of the bodies of coronavirus victims after death, allowing for the forced cremation of bodies despite the deceased’s religious beliefs.

This clause caused considerable protest from British Jews and Muslims, both of whose religious laws forbid cremation.

In response, an amendment to the bill has been made that states authorities must “have regard” for the disposal of bodies “in accordance with the person’s wishes, if known, or otherwise in a way that appears consistent with the person’s religion or beliefs, if known.”

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Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, expressed gratitude for the amendment, saying, “We would like to extend our deep and sincere thanks to the government for working with us to amend this legislation to protect the final wishes and religious freedoms of the deceased. There could be few things more sacred.”

“This has been an inspiring example of interfaith solidarity and responsive government,” she added. “It shows, even in these difficult times for our nation, why we have so much reason to be proud of this wonderful country.”

The decision was also praised by Labour MP Naz Shah, who on Sunday announced plans to add her own amendment to the bill in order to ensure religious beliefs were taken into account in disposing of bodies.

“I’m so relieved that the government have listened to what we’ve said about religious burials for Muslim and Jewish people and have brought forward an amendment to address our concerns,” Shah said following the news of the amendment.

“I don’t need to push my amendment to a vote,” she added.

Van der Zyl thanked Shah for her efforts to force an amendment to the bill.

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