The right to dignity of the body

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On Friday, March 2, 2018, I happened to be at a court premise in the afternoon, a period I find of interest after most courts have closed for the day and the registries are busy with lawyers and law clerks trooping to file their legal processes.

I saw some people giggling and whispering about a video on Ebony, the musician who passed into eternity recently in a road accident. I had listened to newspaper headlines the previous day and had heard about a mortuary worker man-handling her body at the morgue.

I thought that was an offensive act if it was true.

I asked and watched the 50 seconds video. In the video, a worker in a morgue is shown turning Ebony’s badly damaged and bloodied body for the camera. He touches the body’s private part and then lifting her body, turns Ebony’s face hanging on her limp neck towards the camera.

Human right issue

My first reaction was why the body of the deceased had to be shown lying in a morgue on social media to the whole world? Have hospital mortuaries which are expected to provide utmost privacy, dignity and healthy management of a deceased now become the shooting venues for videos of corpses? Which hospital was that? Who is the medical officer in charge of the hospital? Who is the hospital administrator and who is the mortuary worker who readily allowed the corpse to be filmed and for what purpose? Is the director-general of the Ghana Health Service aware that a mortuary has now become a venue for the invasion of a dead body’s privacy? Is there a Ministry of Health policy for mortuaries regarding the privacy and dignity of corpses? If the answers to my questions are in the affirmative, then what happened in the case of Ebony is not only an aberration but an affront to the constitutional dignity of a person whether dead or alive.

Article 33 of Ghana’s 1992 constitution provides that any person, a guardian or a friend, can go to a high court to protest about human rights violations.

Human rights are not restricted to only living human beings but also the dead.

Matter of dignity

Article 33(5) provides that “the rights, duties, declarations and guarantees relating to the fundamental human rights and freedoms specifically mentioned shall not be regarded as excluding others not specifically mentioned which are inherent in a democracy and intended to secure the freedom and dignity of a person’’.

All over the world across races, religion, ethnic groups and gender, deceased persons are kept, prepared in privacy and presented either neatly wrapped as in some religions or dressed in good clothes, suits or traditional wear and given befitting and honourable last respects before been buried or cremated.

Basevi wrote, “that across history, cultures with almost no other ritual in common, treat their dead with reverence.”

Even bodies of enemy soldiers killed in war have been mandated by the 1949 Geneva Conventions to be treated with dignity, clearly identified, marked by nationality and preserved honourably. Violators have been convicted and imprisoned.

We did not see the dead bodies of great singers such as Whitney Houston or Michael Jackson when they passed. We were shown their well-planned funerals by the global media and even their burials were private.

Why should it not be the case of Ebony or is it because she was female? Are we portraying a society or culture that has no respect for the dignity and privacy of the female body even in death? Our Constitution under Article 12 frowns vehemently on all forms of discrimination against gender among others so we can see clearly a possibility of gender discrimination.

We need some standards and regulations. Our courts can be an authority for questioning violations of those standards and compensation for the families and estates of the victims. The buck, however, begins with the director-general of the Ghana Health Service who has the mandate to ensure that hospitals are safe for both the living and the dead for the duration that they are in their custody.

With regards to criminal law, the family or managers of Ebony should make a formal report at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Headquarters regarding the distribution and public exhibition through social media of an obscene video, under S. 281 of the Criminal Offences Act of Ghana. The suspects could include the mortuary worker and his videoing accomplices.

The IGP, who appears to be gender sensitive and has among his numerous accomplishments, the resolution of the approximately 20 years ago serial murder of women, can be of help.

The NPP 2016 Manifesto proudly indicated the government’s commitment to protect the creative arts industry to “generate wealth for practitioners, create jobs and contribute to the economy.” Young persons are to be encouraged to show talent and interest in the creative arts through regional and district literature, music, dance and drama competitions.

Ebony was indeed a gifted and creative young person. May her young soul rest in peace.

The writer is a Lawyer & Lecturer at the GIMPA Law Faculty & Business School.

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