Death is usually considered the worst punishment possible for a crime. But what if the crime itself is death? In several cities around the world, municipal officials have forbidden residents to die, by threat of…well, basically nothing. No one has come up with a good punishment for the dead just yet.
France and Italy are particularly prone to declaring death unlawful, mostly because it’s has proven to be a successful way to protest untenable restrictions against cemetery expansions. Because when there’s no room to bury people, the only acceptable choice is to outlaw the Grim Reaper.
Here are seven towns that have urged their residents to become immortal—or at least not die within city limits:
1. SELLIA, ITALY
In August, the mayor of this town in southern Italy decreed that getting sick was not an option for residents. With only 537 residents, the majority of whom are over 65, dying might kill the town itself. So the ban, while unenforceable, is really meant to encourage people to stay healthy and take care of themselves. Anyone who doesn’t get a yearly checkup will be fined.
2. CUGNAUX, FRANCE
In 2007, Cugnaux had two cemeteries with only 17 plots left between them. Unfortunately, because of a high water table, the only land available to expand the town’s burial ground was on the nearby military air base. When the defense ministry decided against letting the town bury its dead there, Philippe Guérin, the mayor of the southern French village, decreed dying illegal for anyone who didn’t already have a crypt prepared to be buried in. His protest worked, and the defense ministry caved.
3. SARPOURENX, FRANCE
Inspired by Cugnaux’s example, in 2008, an overcrowded cemetery led the mayor of the 260-person hamlet in southwest France to forbid residents from passing on. “Offenders shall be severely punished,” the ordinance read. However, the 70-year-old mayor defied his own edict later that year.
4. BIRITIBA MIRIM, BRAZIL
In 2005, faced with a shortage of space in the local cemetery, the mayor of this Brazilian town banned death. Cremation is frowned upon by the Catholic Church, and there were no more burial plots or crypts left. The farming community, which provides much of Sao Paulo’s fruits and veggies, could not expand its cemetery because of a 2003 law regulating areas with high water tables or special preservation designations. A new cemetery was opened in 2010, so presumably people are allowed to go on dying now. But for how long?
5. LANJARON, SPAIN
In 1999, the mayor of this town in southern Spain also faced a grave shortage. In response, he forbid his citizens to die until municipal officials could find space for a new cemetery. The decree ordered folks “to take utmost care of their health so they do not die until town hall takes the necessary steps to acquire land suitable for our deceased to rest in glory,” according to an AP story at the time.
6. FALCIANO DEL MASSICO, ITALY
In 2012, this 3700-person town outside Naples decided to outlaw death as a way to prod a neighboring town into letting it share cemetery space (the neighboring town had been charging non-residents more for a plot). Falciano del Massico did not have a cemetery of its own. Unfortunately, two senior citizens broke the law. As of 2014, the city was still fighting to get a new cemetery.
7. LONGYEARBYEN, NORWAY
This Arctic town, with a population of some 2000 people, is the world’s northernmost settlement, and is mostly a mining town. In 1950, realizing that bodies in the local cemetery were not decomposing, the town stopped allowing new burials. The bodies hidden under the permafrost are so intact that they have actually allowed scientists to study the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, because the virus was still preserved with its buried victims [PDF]. As Norway’s health benefits don’t extend that far into the Arctic, if you get sick, you have to go elsewhere.
[h/t: The Guardian]