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Respect is key when working with the dead: Embalmer

This article is more than 12 months old

Embalmer Anthony Tay keeps code of ethics hanging on door, wall as a reminder

In the back room of a corner unit in Toa Payoh Industrial Park, two stainless steel tables sit empty, with a third kept away in the corner.

The space is modest, about the size of a one-room flat.

But it is here that hundreds have passed through to be prepared for the afterlife.

Mr Anthony Tay, 63, is one of the most experienced embalmers in Singapore.

Hanging on the wall of the facility is his certificate from the British Institute of Embalmers (BIE), dated Feb 14, 1985.

He was the first Singaporean to fly to England to take the exam at the institute.

His parents used to own a coffee shop next to Singapore Casket, and he would deliver coffee when he was younger, getting used to the sight of corpses.

Mr Tay said it was a manager at Singapore Casket who persuaded him to pursue embalming as a profession.

"I initially wanted to take up law," he said.


"But at that time, people told me I should just forget it if I couldn't be the next David Marshall.

"So I pursued embalming instead, and I've had no regrets."

Recently, the embalming industry here came under scrutiny following allegations of poor practices in the handling of bodies embalmed in the Geylang Bahru area.

Several in the funeral industry were reportedly contacted by the authorities to assist in investigations.

But with more than 30 years' experience in the industry, Mr Tay is not worried.

Two copies of the code of ethics of the BIE hang on the door and wall of the facility, a constant reminder of his duty.

Respect is fundamental, he said, regardless of who these people were or how they lived.

The bodies are usually brought directly to the facility from the morgue, and he prepares himself to work on them as soon as they arrive.

It takes him about 45 minutes to finish work for most cases, while some take twice as long.

He said that even with the best techniques and embalming skills, there is very little one can do in some cases.

"There are some cases where the family comes to me and says they need me to do restoration work, when the person dies from an extreme accident," he said.

"I will help in whatever way I can."

He added: "There is no space for cutting corners or haphazard work when it comes to embalming.

"This is someone's final send off. The least we can do as fellow human beings is to give them a proper one."