The saying that nothing is as certain as death and taxes applies to Greece. Of course, the funeral business is more lucrative than taxes as the bereaved are in no position to protest while being tricked out of small fortunes by the state, church and funeral offices. The rights and individual choices of the dead are overlooked in laws stemming from the Greek Orthodox belief that human souls have the right to reclaim their bodies on Resurrection Day.
So if you thought that living in Greece had its challenges, consider death
1.You have no right to euthanasia
Euthanasia comes from the Greek word “good death”, however – as a practice – a patient’s voluntary request for assisted death in the case of an aggressive illness is illegal in Greece. Nobody drove this home clearer than the late, prominent journalist Alexandros Velios, who made the case for euthanasia in the months leading to his death using “non-assisted euthanasia”. He had looked into the matter of assisted euthanasia in Switzerland before buckling down and dying in his homeland the way he wanted. You’d think the matter would have been laid to rest, however, this week, an Athens prosecutor ordered the exhumation of his remains to determine whether he had been administered the fatal dose of medication that laid to his death. The police are investigating the case as possible homicide.
2. Forget cremation in Greece
The Greek Orthodox Church wants Christian bodies to be buried whole, as the body is considered a “temple of the spirit”. The Church is vehemently opposed to cremation, regardless of the belief or desires of the deceased. Without a single crematorium in the country, cremation exports to nearby Bulgaria are carried out for those interested in this type of burial. Apart from church opposition to cremation, local politicians whose municipalities make money rom cemeteries are not ecstatic about losing “customers”.
3. Rent-a-Grave. Cemetery plots are hard to find
Cemeteries in Greece are overcrowded. With nowhere to expand, new plots are not readily available to buy with costs skyrocketing to exorbitant rates. For instance, a 2×1.5m plot with a central entrance costs more than 40,000 euros at the 1st Cemetery of Athens and can even go as high as 65,000-80,000 euros depending on the size and location of the plot in the cemetery. For this reason, funeral plots are leased out on a rotational system where families of the deceased pay to keep a body underground for three years before bodies are exhumed so that bones can be stored at an ossuary. This more “affordable” solution, however, is not without its problems. Apart from the fact that the exhumation process is extremely distressing, the costs are also prohibitive e.g. 1,500 euros for three years at the First Cemetery of Athens, 800 euros at Kokkinos Milos, etc. Once bones make their way to the ossuary, the costs don’t stop for the relatives of the deceased with bones kept in metal boxes at 25 euros per year and 70 euros per year in marble boxes.
The entire “show” of a Greek funeral that includes the cost of a coffin, entourage of coffin bearers, church fees, and staging of the entire event all the way to the traditional coffee and cognac for the bereaved and other mourners starts at 900 euros (cheapest no-frills offer), without the cost of the actual plot and marble tomb.
4. Cash-starved Greeks are leaving their loved ones to rot
A growing number of people are abandoning their loved ones at hospitals. Health institutions host annual tenders for services for corpses left behind whose families are unable to collect their deceased. Evangelismos, a central hospital in Athens, allocated 30,000 euros for this purpose in 2013 that shot up to 45,000 euros in 2013. The figures of families unable to bear the funeral costs is constantly rising.
The Medical School of Athens is under pressure to accept more and more bodies of relatives who seek for the bodies of their loved ones to be donated to science as they just cannot afford to bury them. Unfortunately, for this to occur, the deceased is required to sign a consent form, resulting in many bodies being turned away.
At the third cemetery of Athens, the 36th section is filled with unclaimed dead bodies. Some have wooden crosses covering the graves, others are marked with numbers.