The town where dying is illegal

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Photo: flickr.com/John6536 (creative commons)

Imagine a small fairy-tale like town with a population of slightly over 2000 inhabitants that doesn’t let it’s people die there. Wonder why? Here’s the story.

Longyearbyen, a coal-mining town located in Norway’s remote Svalbard chain of islands is one of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas. In 1950, the law that made dying ‘illegal’ was brought to force after it was discovered that due to the extreme cold weather in the area, the bodies in the graveyards won’t decompose. Scientists found evidence that viruses from the 1918 Spanish flu were still present in the bodies, making the living inhabitants in the area prone to diseases. 

The law has no intention to challenge the inevitability of death, nor does it claim any predictions about dying. It only means that the current living population cannot get buried in the town after death. Terminally ill residents are moved to mainland so they are looked after well, and buried outside of the town. Not only this, expectant mothers are also moved out of the town to deliver at other locations so they can get proper hospital care.  

However, Longyearbyen is not the only place in the world where such a law exists. There are at least six other places where it’s illegal to die, but due to other factors such as lack of graveyard space or due to extremely low population.  

Longyearbyen witnesses temperatures as low as -46.3°C (-51.3°F) during winters and is situated halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. The town witnesses complete darkness for months during winters, and polar bears are sighted more often than one can imagine. However, the town is also one of the most beautiful, untouched locations in Norway. It also has the Svalbard Museum, North Pole expedition museum, Svalbard church, and most importantly the serene, peaceful nature to witness. 

As interesting, strange or weird this may sound, this is a true story, and only aims at sharing the uniqueness of the world around us. Oh, and next time you are in Norway, do take a trip to Longyearbyen so you can also share with your friends the story that you went to the town that doesn’t let you die!