What is a Mortuary?


Most adults have seen a depiction of a morgue in a movie or TV show. It’s a special room within or adjacent to a hospital or medical center where bodies are stored in refrigerated drawer-like compartments until they are identified and/or for disposition.

Standalone mortuaries focus only on storing the body and provide very few services. A funeral home that includes a mortuary offers embalming, a meaningful funeral service, burial and cremation.

Preparation of the Body

Before a funeral can take place, the body needs to be prepared. This is done by a mortician, or embalmer. The preparation of the body has great cultural and religious significance, helping families come to terms with their loss.

A dead body can decompose quickly, causing noxious odors and fluid leakage from orifices. In order to slow this process, the body is kept in a cool environment. This is why a mortuary has to be refrigerated.

In the past, before methods were available to confirm that a person was deceased, bodies would be housed in waiting mortuaries until they could be buried. Today, this is not necessary since the methods for verifying death are much more reliable.

After a death, the body can be taken to the funeral home, donated for organ donation, cremated or placed in a casket for viewing. The decision to do so is usually based on religious and family customs, as well as a desire to say goodbye in a dignified way.


Detailed records are made when a body is admitted to the mortuary. This includes information on the date of admission, cause of death (if known), any personal belongings and more.

A subdiscipline of anthropology called forensic osteology is used to examine bones and identify individuals. It is particularly useful in the event of a CBRN mass fatality incident where skeletal remains are often scarce.

In smaller incidents, identification may take place at the incident scene before the bodies are transferred to the mortuary. However, for larger incidents, it is usually the responsibility of the reconciliation coordinator to match antemortem data with postmortem data, including textual and other scientific information.

When a provisional match is made, the FLO should make sure that the family is informed and that they are aware of the status of their loved one’s human remains. They should also be asked their wishes regarding the release of the remains. If the family agrees to a communal arrangement, the PMOC should record this.


Cremation is the process of incineration that reduces human remains to ashes. Once the body is in a casket or similar container, it’s moved to a furnace, referred to as a retort, and exposed to extreme heat. The bone fragments are reduced to a fine, dust-like consistency—the cremated remains, or ashes. A temporary receptacle, usually made of cardboard or plastic, is provided to hold the remains until a permanent urn is acquired.

When choosing a funeral or cremation provider, be sure to review the entire process and ask about the chain of identification at each step. It’s also important to discuss end-of-life preferences with your loved ones while they’re still alive.

Cremation is a popular choice among many families because it allows for a quicker memorial service and avoids the embalming process. It’s also more environmentally friendly and doesn’t require as much land space. Many religions, including Catholicism and Judaism, allow for cremation. However, there are some religious groups that disapprove of this practice because of their beliefs about the sanctity of the body and spirit.


A mortuary is the place where bodies are kept until they are retrieved by funeral services for identification, autopsy, respectful burial or cremation. In modern times, a morgue is usually refrigerated to slow natural decomposition.

If a body is to be buried, the embalmer washes and dries the skin. He can also suture any incisions and use plaster, adhesive and wax to re-create the natural form. He may also re-groom the hair and nails, apply cosmetics to freshen up an appearance and dress the body in clothes provided by the family.

A casket is used for burial and can be made of wood, metal or fiberglass. It is often adorned with flowers, scripture or poems, and is sometimes called a coffin or urn. People who prefer a more natural burial may choose a green cemetery, which is designed with the environment in mind. These burial sites may have trees and other types of plants planted over the graves, as a way to help the environment and to provide a peaceful resting place for loved ones.

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