Private-sector ambulance operators are encountering more disputes after new government regulations prohibited them from transporting bodies to mortuaries and funeral parlors.
Citing revenue loss, the operators said they are considering organizing a protest to air their grievances.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare implemented the ban last month, with fines of between NT$100,000 and NT$500,000 for violators.
However, private-sector ambulance operators said the new rule has led to problems for the families of patients, ambulance operators and funeral service companies.
A private ambulance driver in Yunlin County’s Douliou City (斗六) was transporting a patient from a hospital in Douliou to be with the patient’s family in Greater Taichung. The patient died before reaching home, so the family asked for the body to be sent to a funeral parlor.
When the ambulance operator asked the family to contact a funeral service company to handle the body it led to an argument as the family was unaware of the new regulations.
“The new regulations came in suddenly last month. If someone breaks the regulations, then they have to pay a fine... We asked ministry officials about it and they told us that the deceased should be transported in a hearse specifically designed to carry a corpse and coffin,” the ambulance operator said.
As funeral businesses in Yunlin do not have the required hearses, the government is being accused of imposing the regulations without understanding the needs and conditions in rural areas.
“If a patient passes away, then we are required to change the vehicle transporting them. Most of the time, the families become very upset about it. They think we are taking advantage of the situation to charge extra fees,” an operator said. “If the government wants to impose regulations, why doesn’t it implement a policy that requires all terminally ill patients to draw their last breath at a hospital and die there?”
National Ambulance Association secretary-general Cheng Ming-chuan (鄭名川) said custom usually calls for the transportation of terminally ill patients home in order for families to see the patient before they die, and for patients to die at home.
“From some people’s perspective, if an ambulance carries patients it can also transport corpses. Some may feel it is not hygenic and somewhat scary, but it can be handled properly, with sterilization treatment and good sanitation. For example, hospitals do not throw away the bed and the bed sheet when a patient passes away,” Cheng said. “What the government should do is to have strict supervision to ensure operators have done the proper sterilization. They should not restrict ambulances from carrying the deceased.”
When someone dear to them passes away, family members are usually overcome by grief and emotional distress in the immediate aftermath, and that complicates the situation, Cheng said.
“Does the government want ambulance operators to take out the corpse from the vehicle, put it on the roadside and wait for funeral service companies to come along?” Cheng asked. “Why can fire department ambulances carry corpses, but private-sector ambulances cannot? This is a double standard. It is needless interference in people’s lives and it is causing aggravation for everyone.”
A ministry official said an ambulance carrying a corpse does not conform to their intended purpose of “transporting and administering medical treatment for patients and injured persons.”
However, the ministry will take the regional environment and local customs into consideration, and in the initial period there will be flexibility, rather than starting to issue fines to violators, the official said.