Why you need to think long and hard about your next of kin


The wife a family is accusing of having killed their son is the only one who can sign for his body at the morgue.

Wednesday March 18 2020

When Janice* walked into the hospital on a rainy Sunday night, she had no idea how quickly things would take a turn. Janice came from a small family and her only sibling, Juliet, lived in the UK. Her mother had passed away and her elderly father had remarried and they were not very close.

At 41, Janice was more concerned about being a mum than getting married. She met Lucas*, a 60-year old gentleman in her profession, who had lost his wife a few years back and although they shared a lot in common, he was adamant he did not want to have any more children. He already had a grandchild.

Janice felt capable of raising a child by herself and went ahead to conceive without Lucas’ blessings. Their relationship suffered an obvious blow as Lucas felt cheated and throughout her pregnancy, they largely kept separate paths.

As the baby’s birth approached, Lucas sought to make amends as he did not want to abandon his child. The two agreed to co-parent, but their relationship was generally deemed irreparable due to the breach of trust that Janice had occasioned.

Lucas gave Janice his personal documents to enable a smooth registration of the baby at delivery. He committed to paying the hospital bills during delivery. Their relationship was cordial, to say the least, and Janice was comfortably looking forward to the delivery of her baby. The antenatal period was uneventful and Janice expected a smooth delivery.

At one o’clock in the night, Janice woke up to labour pains. Her waters broke when she was in the bathroom. She woke up her driver who lived in the staff quarters and he drove her to hospital.


Janice had never been admitted to hospital in her entire life. The admission process was a blur as she filled forms in between contractions. She paused when she had to fill in her next of kin. She did not know what to do. Her sister was too far away and she had not spoken to her dad in over a year.

She hesitated, then filled in Lucas’ details. After all, he was the father of the baby and would have equal right in making decisions concerning the baby. Further, he had already transferred money to her for the bills that exceeded her medical insurance cover.

Janice’s labour was quite rapid and by five in the morning, she was on the delivery couch ready to meet her little prince. She cried as the little one came out yelling and thanked God for the safe delivery of her son.

However, in minutes, the mood in the delivery room changed from celebratory to emergency. Her gynaecologist was tersely giving instructions and the resident doctor had also been summoned. Janice had developed post-partum haemorrhage and was losing blood at an alarming rate.

Within what she thought was minutes, she was being wheeled to the operating room. She was not fully conscious and never even got to sign a consent. The last she heard was that she needed to go to theatre in an attempt to save her life.

It was a massive battle to save Janice’s life. Four hours later, after removal of her uterus and transfusion of several units of blood and blood products, Janice was wheeled to the intensive care unit (ICU). It was touch and go for a week before she appeared to settle down, but she was unable to get off the ventilator hence remained in the ICU for the next five weeks.


At seven o’clock on Monday, Lucas’ morning workout was rudely interrupted by a phone call summoning him to the hospital. He had not read his messages hence had not seen the one from Janice informing him that she had checked into hospital to have the baby.

The hospital urgently needed him to go and give direction in the decisions being made concerning Janice’s care. He felt like an imposter walking into the hospital and being given a rundown on what was happening to Janice. The painful memories of the journey he had walked with his wife to her death bed as she battled cancer were still fresh in his mind. He was not ready for another emotional roller-coaster.

Luckily, Janice’s best friend had also received her message and she drove straight to hospital after dropping her child in school. She found Lucas outside the operating theatre receiving a report from a theatre nurse. She was the one who communicated with Janice’s sister, Juliet, and asked her to come home immediately.

Lucas was the only one permitted to go into the newborn unit to meet his son. It was a bittersweet moment for him. He was overwhelmed at meeting his child, but was distraught at the thought that the little boy may very possibly never know his mother. He was not prepared for that.

Documenting the next of kin during admission may seem like a trivial issue, but one must always think about it carefully and discuss this with the person listed. This is the person who signs consent for surgery and procedures required in your care plan when you do not have the capacity to do so.

This is the person who will sign across the dotted line in the event you need to be taken off life support for being brain dead. This is the person to whom your body will be released in the event you die during hospitalisation. The courts are full of cases regarding disagreements that could have been easily avoided by appropriate selection of this important name.

The wife the family is accusing of having killed their son is the only one who can sign for his body at the morgue. That spouse who is suspected of having battered his wife and put her in the ICU to begin with is the same one to decide whether they should pull the plug or transfer her to the public hospital due to escalating costs.

Who would you like to allocate this responsibility to? Hold that pen and think about this before you put down a name!