Watchdog calls for cremation to be legalized

A Greek human rights watchdog yesterday urged the government to legalize cremation as soon as possible, despite long-standing opposition by the powerful Orthodox Church. In a country where 95 percent of the population is Orthodox, the families of deceased citizens who do not wish to be buried spend thousands of euros to transport loved ones to neighboring Bulgaria for cremation and then return with their ashes. Demand for the option of cremation has risen in recent years as overcrowded cemeteries force bereaved relatives to exhume their loved ones, sometimes only partly decomposed, after three years to make way for the next coffin. The remains of those exhumed are then either stored in boxes or dumped in an unmarked communal grave. «The ban on cremation is violating human rights on several levels,» said Aliki Marangopoulou, president of the National Committee for Human Rights. «It’s every person’s right to decide the fate of their body after death. That is a basic right.» Marangopoulou, whose independent committee regularly issues advisories and proposals to the government and has repeatedly called on it to pass a law allowing cremation, said the time had finally come for such a move. «You have to strike while the iron is hot and conditions at the moment are good for the government to show there is progress on the separation of church and state on some level,» she said. The Orthodox Church has been marred by a series of on-going bribery, extortion and sex scandals, and opinion polls show support for the influential institution has steadily dwindled over the past year. «The Church is currently involved in its own problems and that is why it is a good time to push this issue through,» Marangopoulou said. «I predict that it will happen soon.» A source at the Education and Religion Ministry said the government was not opposed to such a move. «It has not been officially put to us recently but if it were, we would not be negative, especially where it would concern the needs of non-Orthodox people,» a ministry source told Reuters.

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