Funeral Parlor 'Corpse' Was Alive
Mon Aug 12, 2:36 PM ET
By KARINE BARZEGAR, Associated Press Writer

PARIS (AP) - A 68-year-old man was mistakenly declared dead last week and refrigerated for five hours at a funeral parlor before a worker noticed he was alive, a Bordeaux hospital said Monday.

The unidentified man, in the final stages of cancer, was declared dead Friday at a nursing home near the southwest city of Bordeaux. A doctor summoned to the home issued a death certificate.

The man then was sent to a funeral parlor in nearby Macau, where he was refrigerated for five hours. An employee at the funeral parlor was preparing the man for burial when he noticed signs of life.

"When I ... opened the cover, I saw that his stomach was moving," Laurent Besson told France-2 television. "I don't deny that I jumped."

The man was transferred to the Bordeaux University Hospital and placed in intensive care, where he died Sunday night, a hospital statement said. It was unclear whether the refrigeration played a role in the man's death.

The head of the hospital's forensics department, Sophie Gromb, said such errors, while rare, are not improbable.

"A person can experience respiratory pauses, and if there's no pulse at the time, the subject could be declared dead," she said. "The law says you can't bury someone within 24 hours of his death, precisely to avoid burying people alive."

The identity of the doctor who signed the initial death certificate was not released.

Police in the Gironde region, where Bordeaux is located, said the man was terminally ill with throat cancer but the cause of his death had not been determined.

An autopsy was scheduled for Monday, deputy prosecutor Jean-David Cavaille said.

"For now, there is nothing suspicious," he said. "But we'll decide whether there was a medical error or a punishable infraction based on what we find."

Bordeaux prosecutors also were trying to determine what to do about the different death certificates issued for the man.

The Clos Lafitte nursing home had little to say about the incident.

"We not hiding anything," a spokeswoman said. "All the facts connected with this case have been relayed to the police."