What kind of power do the living have over the dead?
It’s a question that a Massachusetts town answered Sunday, when Cambridge City Manager Robert W. Healy said he would not allow Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the alleged mastermind of the Boston Marathon bombings, to be buried in the local public cemetery.
“The difficult and stressful efforts of the citizens of the City of Cambridge to return to a peaceful life would be adversely effected by the turmoil, protests and widespread media presence at such an internment,” Healy said in a statement emailed to reporters. “The families of loved ones interred in Cambridge Cemetery also deserve to have their deceased family members rest in peace.”
Healy suggested that federal agencies should “take the lead in the burial of this individual” though it’s not clear which agencies would be appropriate for such a task.
Does a city have an ethical responsibility to bury one of its residents, even if that resident is suspected of one of the most heinous crimes in memory?
“I think it’s a tangled ethical issue,” said Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a Vermont-based nonprofit that describes itself as a Consumer Reports for those seeking funeral services.
“I can empathize with Cambridge not wanting to have this guy buried there. If they do, there are going to be people out there picketing and damn near rioting about this, and I can imagine the lot owners near the burial site would strongly object.
“On the other hand,” he added, “the reality is his body is just a body, and no harm comes to anyone from burying it there.”
Is there a precedent for this kind of refusal?
Slocum was unaware of one, but wondered whether the disposal of the remains of convicted killers Timothy McVeigh, Jeffery Dahmer or Lee Harvey Oswald offered any lessons.