Since 1950, It Has Been ‘Illegal To Die’ In The Arctic Town Of Longyearbyen

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There are quite a few laws and regulations that a lot of people disagree with. Of course, you’ve probably never heard of a law that makes it illegal to die. Located in Longyearbyen in Norway’s Svalbard Islands, the community has a law that makes it illegal to be buried when you die. Even though this seems a bit extreme, there is a good reason why the town made this law in the first place.

Why Is It ‘Illegal To Die’?

The reason why this law exists is a precaution for the town to be able to avoid as well as prevent contagious diseases. Since the temperatures are freezing in Longyearbyen, corpses weren’t decomposing due to permafrost. This meant that the intact bodies are able to harbor deadly diseases. This has the potential to re-infect the entire community as the bodies thaw from permafrost. (1)

Since 1950, the community of Longyearbyen made it illegal for a person to die anywhere near the town. Even if you’re someone who has lived there your entire life, it is still illegal for you to die there. In fact, if a person in the town is close or near death, they will be flown off of the island. If a person dies while in the town of Longyearbyen, then the body will be buried elsewhere. (1)

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Is Making It Illegal To Die Excessive?

When you think about how small the community is and how few people die there, it’s not a bad idea. Especially if it’s a precaution that will prevent more people from getting horribly sick. Longyearbyen’s decision to do this was a response to an anthrax outbreak that occurred in northern Siberia in 1941. The outbreak was a result of reindeer carcasses thawing from permafrost that infected the whole community. (2)

This happened again in northern Siberia in 2016, where another anthrax outbreak infected and killed over 2,300 reindeer. The outbreak also hospitalized around 90 people and unfortunately killed one boy. This time the outbreak happened during a heatwave that amplified the problem as corpses thawed. Believe it or not, global warming plays a huge role. More and more deadly diseases preserved in permafrost have the potential to become alive again with the raise in hot temperatures of the planet. (2)

With stories like this happening in such a short period of time really makes you think. Perhaps having a law that makes it illegal to die isn’t such a bad idea after all. Especially since there’s no end in sight with the record breaking hot temperatures the world has been giving the past decade.

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Why This Is Scary

A disease such as anthrax occurs when it spores and enters a wound or cut on an animal. Essentially, all of the intact deer that were frozen in permafrost had come in contact with anthrax spores. Though this disease does not spread easily, it survives mostly by living in the soil until infecting the first thing it touches. Shockingly, anthrax spores can remain hidden in soil for over a century before infecting anything. Anthrax is treatable with antibiotics, however, treatment must take place immediately upon being infected. (2)

It’s incredible how long diseases like anthrax are able to exist just by living in a frozen corpse. To give you another example, in 1998, traces of the Spanish Influenza had been found from a corpse that perished in 1917. A team of scientists wore modified spacesuits in order to retrieve samples from the bodies found in the local graveyard. (3)

It’s no wonder that a town like Longyearbyen has made it illegal to die there. After everything that has happened with the Spanish flu as well as anthrax, I would vote yes on a law that makes it illegal to die. Precautions like this law are meant to save lives not only in the present but in the future as well.

Laws And Precautions For Safety

Since Longyearbyen made it illegal to die, there hasn’t been a single outbreak in the community. Of course, this law isn’t meant to deter newcomers from living in the town. In fact, it has mostly to do with what happens to your body after you die and not the act of dying itself. Consider this legislation to be a standard procedure in which they take consideration of where to bury bodies that won’t be encased in diseased permafrozen tombs. (4)

The law itself doesn’t actually state that you cannot die in the town of Longyearbyen. People can die all they want, there isn’t a punishment put in place for those that do end up passing away in the town. No one pays a fine, serves jail time, or anything of the sort. Of course, they will just have to figure out what to do with your body (i.e cremation), which may include being moved away from the town. (5)

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