Supreme Court Rejects Family's Appeal Against Transgender Woman's Cremation

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The family of May Peleg, the transgender woman who committed suicide this month, at the Supreme Court, November 24, 2015.
The family of May Peleg, the transgender woman who committed suicide this month, at the Supreme Court, November 24, 2015. Credit: Emil Salman

The Supreme Court reaffirmed on Tuesday a district court decision ordering that a request in a transgender woman's will asking to be cremated should be honored despite the wishes of her ultra-Orthodox family.

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by the mother of May Peleg, a transgender woman who committed suicide earlier this month. Peleg’s mother has claimed that her daughter's alleged unstable mental condition cast doubt on her request in the will.

“We can at least assume that the deceased’s mental condition at the time of the writing of the will and the affidavit was not stable,” the family stated on appeal, adding that “there is a strong suspicion” that the will and affidavit were prepared by “proxies” and do not reflect Peleg’s wishes. Traditional Jewish religious practice requires the burial of the dead and does not condone cremation.

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 asked 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.

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

The Supreme Court session was attended by dozens of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, by friends of Peleg's, and by her mother and other relatives. Peleg's mother burst into tears when the court panel said that she could not deliver her own statement on the case. Her lawyer, Itzhak Dahan, told the court the case presents a conflict between May Peleg's purported wish and those of all of the other members of her family, but he said Peleg's stated desire was not well-founded when considered against her mother's wish to have a grave for her daughter, and the importance of May Peleg's two children to have a grave that they can visit.

In questioning from the bench, Justice Anat Baron challenged Dahan's position, saying that Peleg's wish was clearly stated in her will. Dahan said the appeal was not being filed out of spite, but instead on behalf of "a mother who wants to have a place for her only child." (In Hebrew, Dahan used the male form of the world child).

A statement put out by a group of Peleg’s friends welcomed the court’s decision, “which respects May Peleg’s desire and her choice and confirms the principle of the individual’s autonomy. We have a long road of struggle ahead of us so that this principle will indeed become a preeminent value in our society, so that each and every one of us can choose his or her own path and realize his or her life’s potential, including the groups to which May belonged: transgender men and women, people coping with psychological distress, people who leave religion, people with illnesses.”

“Alongside her will regarding what should be done with her body, which we will honor in the coming days, May left behind a long-term ethical will to fight for a more just society,” the statement concluded.

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