Hospitals can’t detain bodies of deceased patients

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Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
I want to seek advice regarding the dead child of my friend’s house helper. The child was previously confined in a hospital but eventually died due to health complications. Since their family has no sufficient income, they still have unsettled medical bills with the hospital. Because of this, they are having a hard time getting the body of their child released by the hospital. Can the hospital legally detain the cadaver of their child until they can settle their medical bills? Thank you for your advice!
Genevieve

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Dear Genevieve,
According to Republic Act (RA) No. 9439, or the Anti-Hospital Detention Law, it is unlawful for any hospital or medical clinic in the country to detain or to otherwise cause, directly or indirectly, the detention of patients who have fully or partially recovered or have been adequately attended to or who may have died, for reasons of non-payment in part or in full of hospital bills or medical expenses (Sec. 1, RA. 9439).

This law applies not only to alive and recovering patients, but also to the release of the cadaver of deceased patients to their relatives. According to the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of RA 9439 issued by the Department of Health:

“In the case of a deceased patient, any of his/ her surviving relatives who refuse to execute a promissory note shall be allowed to claim the cadaver and can demand the issuance of death certificate and other pertinent documents for interment purposes. Documents for other purposes shall be released only after execution of a promissory note.” (Rule V, A.3) Emphasis supplied

It is clear from this provision that, for purposes of proper burial of deceased patients, hospitals are mandated by law to release to the deceased patient’s relatives the cadaver along with the death certificate even without the execution of a promissory note. Thus, the hospital’s failure to release the cadaver of a deceased patient for non-payment of hospital bills is already considered an unlawful act.

This is also expressly mentioned in the IRR of RA 9439, which states that:

“In the case of a deceased patient, any hospital or medical clinic refusing to release the cadaver for reason of non-payment, in part or in full, of hospital bills or medical expenses/hospitalization expenses shall be held accountable for such unlawful act. Detention occurs when all of the following are present:

a) The medical officer has made the pronouncement of death;

b) Any of the surviving relatives is incapable to pay the corresponding hospital bills or medical expenses/ hospitalization expenses;

c) Any of the surviving relatives has executed a promissory note covering the unpaid hospital bills or medical expenses/hospitalization expenses; and

d) The officer or employee of the hospital or medical clinic responsible for releasing the deceased patient has refused to release the cadaver and/ or relevant documents.” (Rule V, A [4]) (Emphasis supplied).

Lastly, it is important to note that the rules provide for penalty for any violation of the said law, to wit:

“Any officer or employee of a hospital or medical clinic responsible for found to commit any violation of RA No. 9439 and its implementing rules and regulations shall be punished by either a fine of not less than P20,000 but not more than P50,000, or imprisonment of not less than one month but not more than six months, or both such fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the proper court.” (Rule V, B (3))

To conclude, the family of your friend’s house helper can legally demand the immediate release of the cadaver of their child by the hospital as mandated by the law and provisions mentioned above. The hospitals refusal to release the cadaver of their patient would make them liable and punishable by law.

Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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