Judge Orders Cremation of Transgender Woman Who Committed Suicide

Ruling rejects petition by May Peleg's ultra-Orthodox family that she be buried as a man, rather than cremated.

May Peleg, a transgender woman from Jerusalem who committed suicide im mid-November 2015.
Ofrit Asaf

The Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday rejected a petition by the family of May Peleg, a transgender woman who committed suicide last weekend, that she be buried rather than cremated.

The court ordered that Peleg's body be cremated, as she requested in her will.

"In the dispute between the sides, I came to the conclusion that sufficient grounds exist to rule that the desire of the deceased was that her body be cremated and that the claim that her capacity to make that decision was diminished was unfounded," the judge wrote in his ruling.

He delayed the execution of his decision until next Sunday to give the family time to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Peleg, 31, was born male into an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem family. In a will she drew up only a day before she took her own life, she gave instructions for her body to be cremated. She requested that a ceremony be held, with most of her ashes scattered at sea and the rest placed under a tree to be planted in her memory.

“Since I have no contact with my biological family and since I fear that after my death there will be those who try to obstruct my final wish to be cremated, using various arguments, I ask you to represent me in court and be my voice,” she wrote to attorney Yossi Wolfson, with whom she deposited her will.

Wolfson petitioned the Jerusalem District Court a day after Peleg's suicide to instruct the state to deliver her body for cremation. He stated that Peleg had contacted the Aley Shalechet funeral home and crematorium before her death and paid for her cremation.

"I do not see any validity in the mother's claim that the deceased's wishes should not be honored after her death and that the parent's wishes should supersede them," wrote Judge Arnon Darel.

"That argument has no basis in Israeli law, while honoring the wishes of the dead, whether assumed of explicit, is recognized as an important principle in legislation and rulings."

He judge added that documents left by Peleg and her activities before her suicide proved her wish that she be cremated. He rejected the mother's claim that Peleg's emotional state did not allow her to make such decisions.

"It has been proved that the deceased's free and full intention was that her body be cremated and not buried," he wrote.

The judge said that there was no legal barrier to cremation in Israel and stressed that the law gave preference to the right of the individual over his or her body and that right needed to be respected.

He rejected the mother's argument that cremation would be contrary to the interests of Peleg's two children. "I do not believe that the clear and explicit wishes of the deceased can be overturned by an argument abot the good of the children," he wrote.

"Though it is possible to understand the desire of the mother and the family for a Jewish burial, the question is not what is the best or preferred solution, but what the deceased wanted and whether there is any illegality or contradiction to the principle that the deceased's wishes should be respected. Those do not exist," he wrote.