While the government is considering reducing the amount of time it takes for a person to be declared dead after having been reported missing, it has not yet decided on how long that timeframe should be, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday.
His comments followed a call from Leader of the Opposition Philip Brave Davis to reduce the amount of time given the number of people still missing after Hurricane Dorian, which decimated parts of Abaco and Grand Bahama several weeks ago.
So far, 61 people are confirmed dead and 282 are still listed as missing in the aftermath of the storm. Currently, it takes seven years before a missing person is legally declared dead.
“I think, if there’s overwhelming evidence that somebody is missing as a result of the storm, that some consideration should be made,” Sands said outside Cabinet.
“Now, what that timeline should be or should it be six months, a year, that is when discussion with all of the stakeholders would come up with an appropriate timeline.”
He added, “We have started that discussion. I believe the attorney general would have made a few comments about it. Bear in mind that this is not something you can just pull out of thin air. It requires consideration of the implications.”
Sands said the government must take into consideration issues like life insurance and real property in its decision on the matter.
“So while there is a need for closure, I think we have to be very careful that we think this through very carefully, and I suspect what will happen is that we come up with an intermediate, a position that a consensus position is found,” he said.
“I don’t know what that time is.”
Sands said efforts to publish all the identities of those still missing are continuing. He said the government is also trying to determine the best way to disseminate information on the bodies in morgues so that people looking for loved ones can have a better idea of where to start.
“We believe that the public needs to know exactly how they can find out whether or not a loved one, a missing loved one, is in one of the morgues, whether in Grand Bahama or in Abaco or in New Providence,” he said.
“And there is information that ought to be readily available and we think that that should be made public, so that people know exactly where to go, who to speak to, what numbers to call.
“So, the process for a family member who believes that a loved one may be missing would include making that initial inquiry. We would ask quite a bit of information about where was the person last seen, what were they wearing, do they have any identifying characteristics, braces, scars, any surgery on a limb, any particular tattoos.
“And then, given the fact that a number of the bodies are in an advanced state of decomposition, a request would be made for DNA, since all of the autopsied remains have had DNA samples done. We would then compare that DNA with the existing database of victims, and if your loved one is in one of the morgues, those remains would be turned over to the family for the appropriate last rites.”
Sands said they want to make sure the process is “seamless” to avoid misinformation.
“What we would like to do is engage the attorney general, engage national security, social services to make sure that this process is seamless,” he said. “I think we had an unfortunate discrepancy last week, and we’d like to avoid anything like that. So, right now, I believe the carriage of the missing persons list is national security.
He added, “There are still bodies in the morgue in Abaco and Grand Bahama. There is one female body in Grand Bahama and there are more than 40 remains in Abaco.
“What we would like to do is to make sure that anybody who is missing a loved one knows exactly how to do it and that that process – the difficulty – is minimized, so that people can get closure.”