Easing the Pain of Loss

New York City has never experienced sudden, massive loss of life as it did on Sept. 11, 2001. Sadly, however, there is no reason to believe that 9/11 will be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Natural disasters and the prospect of additional terrorist attacks obviously cannot be ruled out in the decades to come.

With that in mind, families of the victims of that terrible day are calling on Congress to establish protocols that would govern the handling and disposal of human remains after disasters like the terrorist attacks of a decade ago. Congress should hold hearings on the topic, as the families have urged, to ascertain how best to implement protocols related to mass casualties.

The families’ request came after the media revealed that some unidentified human remains from the 9/11 attacks were taken to a landfill and buried there. Families rightly argue that this was egregiously insensitive, that a landfill is hardly the proper final resting place for victims of a national tragedy.

Families and the city still have not come to an agreement on where other unidentified remains should be placed. The city proposed that they be encased in an underground repository adjacent to the 9/11 museum, but many families would prefer an above-ground site similar to Arlington National Cemetery’s tomb of the unknown soldiers.

That debate will be worked out in the courts. In the meantime, Congress should make sure that victims of the next large-scale disaster are accorded more dignity than was shown those whose ashes are now buried in a landfill. Government should have a policy in place, so that relatives no longer have to suffer further heartbreak.