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NC House bill could have prevented legal turmoil for family who wants to cremate conjoined twins

The story of an Apex couple barred by state law from cremating their stillborn twins has touched many in the Triangle community.

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Bryan Mims
, WRAL anchor/reporter & Hannah Webster, WRAL.com editor
APEX, N.C. — The story of an Apex couple barred by state law from cremating their stillborn twins has touched many in the Triangle community.

Some have emailed WRAL News, wanting to help the family and demanding changes in the law. Legal experts say that, while a previously proposed law could have prevented the situation, there are few loopholes to the current statute.

The twin girls Daniel and Kristin Christensen were expecting were delivered stillborn last week – 22 weeks into the pregnancy. A membrane between the two girls was missing, allowing them to become intertwined.

The babies’ remains will stay at the pathology unit at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, Daniel Christensen said, until the family decides what to do.

A North Carolina law forbids the cremation of more than one person within the same cremation chamber. The couple says it is medically difficult to tell the two girls apart.

“We want to cremate them, and we don’t even have that choice,” Daniel Christensen said.

But the couple said that, even if it were possible to separate them, they would not want the girls to be separated from each other.

“We don’t want them separated. They were never separated,” Kristin Christensen said.

Edward Kosmos, owner of City of Oaks Funeral Home, said, like many, he was bothered by the story.

He feels the twins, whose complication caused them to become entwined, should be able to be cremated together.

“There’s always an exception to every rule,” Kosmos said.

After seeing the family’s story, Kosmos pointed out a provision in the state's guidebook for funeral homes. It said that, if someone's religious beliefs conflict with the cremation rule, a funeral home should make special accommodations.

“Very simple solution,” Kosmos said. “It should have never made it to the media. This is something where the family should have walked into the funeral home and said this is what our concern is.”

But Stephen Davis, the executive director of the state Funeral Services Board, said it's not that simple.

“The law is written in such a way that it leaves very few options for a family in a situation like this,” he said.

That religious principle applies only to people making the request before their own deaths. It's not for parents to make after their children have died.

If House Bill 529 had passed last year, the family likely wouldn’t have found themselves in the legal turmoil.

The bill would allow cremation of the "remains of multiple fetuses from the same mother." It would also allow the "remains of triplets up to one year old" to be cremated together.

Davis, who spoke with the twins' grandfather Thursday night, said the funeral board is fully behind this proposed change in state law.

“Basically, what this is all about is what can be done legislatively and eliminate this and hopefully prevent such an occurrence from happening in the future,” he said.

Daniel Christensen said he and his wife do not want the girls buried, even though funeral homes have offered a free burial.

He said they are looking at the possibility of an out-of-state funeral home retrieving the remains and cremating them.

“There is no absolute resolution," he said.

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