The Law in Longyearbyen, Norway: No Dying Allowed!



In the frozen Svalbard archipelago, far north of the Norwegian mainland, temperatures rarely rise above freezing. This became a problem during the influenza pandemic of 1917-1920 because the victims' bodies did not decompose, the virus inside of them did not die. So officials in the settlement of Longyearbyen passed a clever law to prevent further destruction by the disease. They banned death:

The cold earth had preserved the corpses and, unfortunately, had also kept the influenza strain alive.

There is no reason to believe that anyone was infected by the resurrected influenza, but regardless, its discovery provided a warning to the town officials. Realizing that Longyearbyen, quite isolated from the rest of the world, had no way of handling its dead — and at risk to the living — its leaders simply declared that dying was not permitted in the town.

Enforcement, of course, cannot be done via punitive action — “don’t die, or else!” is a strange ultimatum, to say the least. Rather, Longyearbyen prevents people from dying in town by a system akin to an administrative hokey-pokey. The cemetery closed in 1930, accepting no future burials.


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