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June 27, 2017

Loophole in Pennsylvania law means many don't have to report dead bodies

If you discover a dead body in Pennsylvania, are you required to report it to the authorities?

In many cases, the answer is no, according to a Delaware County lawmaker. 

Republican state Rep. Nick Miccarelli plans on introducing legislation that would make it a misdemeanor if one discovers a body and fails to notify a health or law enforcement agency, an attempt to close a loophole in state law.

Miccarelli told PhillyVoice he was tipped off to the vagueness in the law when someone he went to high school with died of a drug overdose in western Pennsylvania.

A person living with the man who died didn't report the death for two weeks.

Because the person living in the apartment technically had no special duty to report the death, such as how law enforcement and medical professionals are required, and because she had neither abused the corpse nor participated in his death, she had not violated the law.

The proposed law is about addressing a "matter of decency," Miccarelli said.

"I think if anyone puts themselves in the situation of (his high school classmate's) family, they would be so angered and so frustrated that they would want some justice."

Miccarelli pointed to the current abuse of corpse statute in Pennsylvania, which defines the act as treating "a corpse in a way that he knows would outrage ordinary family sensibilities."

He said that while "outrageous" may seem like an easily definable word, it can be difficult to pinpoint in court.

"Most people would believe that if someone’s family member was dead and they failed to report it, it would be 'outrageous' conduct," Miccarelli said. However, failing to report a death doesn't necessarily fall under the term.

Someone may purposefully not report a death for a variety of reasons, Miccarelli said, including waiting to receive a benefits check in the name of the person who died.

One potential consequence of a corpse going unreported for long periods of time is it will begin to decompose, making a family's decision to have an open-casket funeral more difficult.

Miccarelli didn't know specifically how many co-sponsors his office had gotten to back the legislation so far but said there were several lawmakers on board.