In Case of Sudden Death

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 10.05.39 AMBy Brooke Gazer

Imagine you have spent some time by the pool and as you walk into the house you find your spouse slumped in a chair, his color looks bad and he doesn’t appear to be breathing. This is not a scenario any of us wants to contemplate, but living in a foreign country, it would be helpful to know what to do, should the unthinkable occur. If you are in Huatulco, who do you call and what can you expect to happen?

Unless you are positive your spouse, or whoever is in crisis, is not breathing, you should call an ambulance plus a doctor, if you have a relationship with one. There are any number of doctors in Huatulco, some of them associated with the major all-inclusive hotels. The Eye is not in a position to recommend any particular doctor, so if you arrive in Huatulco with a pre-existing condition, you should do some research. You want a doctor who has good English or a good translator on hand. You should be aware that the Mexican medical education system confers the title of “doctor” after four years of undergraduate education; in the U.S., that is when students enter medical school. To find a Mexican doctor with further medical education, you need a specialist (any one of whom can also serve as a general practitioner) who has graduated from a university.

If you call the Red Cross, they will send an ambulance with technicians who are trained to deal with emergencies and will transport the person to the appropriate hospital. The Red Cross charges between $500 and $1,000 mxn to transport a patient.

What Happens If Someone Dies

If death has occurred, the Red Cross will not move the patient; although you will not be charged, a donation (even a few days later) is much appreciated.

If the patient has died as the result of an extended illness, the attending physician (see above) can complete and sign a death certificate.

In the case of a sudden unexplained death or accident, the Policía Municipal must be called immediately. They will send a medical examiner and the body cannot be moved until he has assessed the situation to determine whether an investigation is necessary. Unless you have made arsenic tea or stab wounds are evident, this should be merely a formality of a few hours. It is likely however, that they will send the body to the coroner in Puerto Escondido where the cause of death will be officially determined and the certificate completed.

Once the death certificate has been issued and approved, the body would normally be sent to the local funeral home. At this point you are going to need to make some important decisions within a short time frame so here are your options:

You can have the body shipped home for burial. The funeral home will contact the consulate of your country; several forms need to be completed and the funeral home will take care of all this for you. They will need a copy of the deceased’s passport and immigration visa. According to international law, the body must be embalmed and shipped in a casket. The embalming and paperwork will take about 15-20 days, for which one of Huatulco’s funeral homes, Funerales Díaz, charges $36,000 mxn, plus the casket. A simple wood box is $2,000 mxn, and a more elaborate metal casket runs about $12,000 mxn. The largest cost here would be transportation and this depends on where you are sending it. There are both international shipping charges and an airline shipping fee; count on the airline fee being as much as, if not more than, a non-discounted ticket.

The body can be interred locally. You contact “Servicios Municipales” at the city hall to apply for a plot. They require a death certificate before they can assign a space. The cost is $28,000 mxn, plus the casket, a stone and a small fee to dig the grave. Since there is separation of church and state in Mexico, you do not need to be Catholic to be interred in the cemetery in Huatulco. If you want to have the body interred in Mexico City, it can be shipped without embalming provided you act quickly.

Cremation. There is no facility in Huatulco, so the body would be sent to Salina Cruz. The crematorium requires copies of the following documents: death certificate, birth certificate, passport, immigration visa, and marriage license if applicable. There are three additional forms that need to be completed and signed by the next of kin and two witnesses. Again, the local funeral home will look after this for you. Cremation can generally be accomplished within two days and costs $32,000 mxn. It is suggested that someone accompany the body to Salina Cruz, but that is not an absolute requirement.

If you are not a member of a local church, it is permissible to have a funeral, memorial service, or a wake (with or without the guest of honor present) in your home or in a rented hall.

This is an unpleasant topic and not something most people like to discuss. In the event of a sudden death, there is enough stress on the survivors without having to “second guess” what might be appropriate, so please consider the options and discuss this with someone you love.

Obtaining top quality medical care in Huatulco under serious emergency conditions is difficult, and how to handle the situation is complicated. Sometimes the best course of action is to move on, via commercial airline if the patient can travel independently or by medical evacuation if not. The Eye Lecture Series will be addressing medical care arrangements in its first presentation in Fall 2016, and is preparing a booklet with essential advice and reference information; the booklet will be available at the lecture.

  • Emergency phone numbers
  • Red Cross: 958 587 1188
  • Policía Municipal: 948 587 0675
  • Funerales Díaz: 958 587 2054, cel: 958 102 0060

Brooke Gazer operates an ocean view B&B in Huatulco,