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But on the last day of the legislative session this month, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to end that 162-year-old system by requiring written consent from a spouse or next of kin before city officials can release an unclaimed body to a school, unless the deceased is already registered as a body donor.

Though the new measure applies only to New York City and still needs the governor’s signature to become law, its passage in both houses on June 16 showed a significant shift in public attitudes toward human remains and the dead the city considers unclaimed.

The vote — 61 to 1 in the State Senate, 107 to 32 in the Assembly — came a month after a New York Times investigation highlighted provisions in the current law that give families as little as 48 hours to claim a relative’s body before the city must make it available for dissection or embalming practice. The city has offered at least 4,000 bodies to medical or mortuary programs in the past decade, records show, and among these, more than 1,877 were selected for use before burial in the city’s mass graves on Hart Island.

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Image: By Kim Traynor – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16737904

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