The "Holding Room" — and the Choices We Face


It was an empty office on one floor behind the nursing station, cooled by a single air conditioner. It was called the "holding room.” As a chaplain, I sometimes accompanied the bodies that were held there.

Butterfly HandsThe holding room was the place where deceased residents were brought, to be picked up by funeral homes — or to be sent to the medical examiner’s morgue, if funeral arrangements had not been made by a designated time limit.

Recent media coverage has heightened public awareness of Hart Island, the largest mass burial ground in the United States. Some of those buried on Hart Island are people whose time ran out — in a "holding room" or elsewhere — before next of kin could arrange for their funerals. They then became vulnerable to the general practice of using (presumably) unclaimed bodies without consent for anatomical education and research.

As the New York State legislature seeks to curb this practice, we can leverage our own powers of choice to honor the dead as well as improve health care for the living. READ MORE