Is It Forbidden To Die In Longyearbyen, Norway?

The Norwegian town of Longyearbyen is the northernmost inhabited city in the world. It is located on the island, Svalbard. The island is fascinating in many ways. If you decide to visit it, you’ll notice that most streets have numbers instead of names and you won’t see a single cat, but maybe you’ll notice a polar bear. Cats are banned because they are a threat to local birds.

Besides that, Longyearbyen seems to have one more interesting fact that shocks many. You can’t be buried there. Yes, you’ve read that correct – you can`t be buried in the town of Longyearbyen. It’s the law.

If you think this is a bizarre law, you may be right, but there is a very important reason behind it – protecting other residents.

The reason for such strict measures in the first place was one discovery. In 1950, when the law was brought about, it was discovered that bodies buried in a city cemetery were not decomposing because the soil was permanently frozen and, as a result, viruses in corpses could survive and there was a risk of future infestation. That would be a threat to residents who are living there now and for future generations also. No one has been buried in Longyearbyen for more than 70 years now.

However, It is a common misconception (and one of the reasons people think that Longyearbyen is a weird place) that it is forbidden by law to die here. It is not illegal to die, you just won’t be buried on the island if you do.

 Even if the inhabitant has spent all his life on the island, if he happens to get sick and the disease is at a terminal stage, he will have to leave the island and die elsewhere. If, however, someone dies suddenly, his body will be urgently saved and he will not be buried on the island, but he will be transported to the mainland.

While this sounds like a script for a horror movie, something similar happened in northern Siberia, where the anthrax epidemic of 2016 happened. When this occurred, the cause of the infection was the bodies of wild animals that were in frozen soil, which dissolved when the temperature rose rapidly. That cause one person to die and another 90 to end up in the hospital.

Also, pregnant women in Longyearbyen are often told to travel to the mainland to give birth. The reason is that it is safer to go there to the hospital considering that it has more equipment and supplies.

The town had a population of 2,144 in the 2015 census, and the island is dominated by an Arctic climate with summer temperatures of three to seven degrees Celsius, and with winter temperatures dropping to minus 13 degrees Celsius. And not only it is really cold, but the polar nights last for 111 days.