Iowa Gives Undertakers Unfair Advantage

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4/27/2012—To our shock, a recently passed bill (HF2369) takes away the ability of local registrars to issue burial-transit permits. Home funeral families are now at the mercy of funeral directors with a conflict of interest or medical examiners who don't want to cooperate with them. We sent the letter below to the state's chief registrar. 

April 27, 2012 

Jill France, Chief, Bureau of Health Statistics
Lucas State Ofc. Bldg.
321 E. 12th Street

Des Moines,  IA 50319  

Dear Ms. France, 

I write to you as the executive director of the nation’s oldest nonprofit dedicated to protecting the rights of funeral consumers, and as the co-author of a book on funeral law state by state (Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death. Upper Access Books, 2011).

I am requesting that you please send a written directive to the state’s funeral directors alerting them that they are required to furnish burial-transit permits to families and lay groups who wish to bury their own dead privately without engaging the commercial funeral industry.  I am shocked and dismayed to learn that HF 2369 removed references to the county registrars, thus restricting access to these permits. Now families who want a home funeral are required to go either to the state registrar (impractical) or to a commercial funeral home. Home funeral educator Bonnie Kauth has told me the funeral homes in her area are refusing to issue these permits. This is a blatant conflict of interest and I have to believe it’s illegal. Funeral directors who issue burial transit permits are acting on the state’s behalf. They must not be permitted to refuse to perform that duty in an attempt to force grieving families to purchase their services. I feel certain the sponsors of this legislation could not have intended to give the commercial funeral industry a legal monopoly on every death in the state. 

Families who bury their own dead already secure a physician’s signature on the death certificate; the state’s medico-legal interest in the death is discharged. There is no legal or practical reason to deny them burial transit permits for their own kin. 

Please let me know when you plan to address this matter. While families who perform their own funerals are in the minority, their rights are important.  Funeral directors should be required to provide these permits to families on request and should be barred from charging anything other than the state’s administrative fees. If this problem persists there is a very real risk of adverse publicity for the state and the funeral industry, not to mention the likelihood that a family will file suit against Iowa law on constitutional grounds (freedom of religious practice comes to mind with regard to Amish and Quakers who bury their own). While I hope to work with concerned Iowans and lawmakers to redress this legislation, if that fails my organization will actively encourage and support such a lawsuit.

 Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.



Joshua Slocum, Executive Director

Last Updated ( Thursday, 24 May 2012 21:51 )  
Comments (7)
1 Friday, 27 April 2012 12:31
Ruth Bennett
Great letter, Josh. You would have me very concerned if I were in their place.

2 Monday, 30 April 2012 12:05
Nancy Petersen
They love to just sneak this stuff by the unknowing public, don't they? Wonderful letter now I await the reply!

3 Wednesday, 02 May 2012 09:44
Karen Zinn
4 Friday, 04 May 2012 12:03
Hi Josh...

I am going to forward your letter to the head of the State Mortuary Science Department here in Iowa. I talked to her (Susan Reynolds) about the issue and she has agreed to bring up the matter at the June Board meeting. I especially stressed that our group AD LUMEN had talked to local funeral directors with no success in terms of partnering with them. I asked her to emphasize that if funeral directors are going to have these forms as reps of the State, the forms should be available at the same cost. Currently the State has no charge for the forms. correction in your letter. This changed has just gone into effect. No funeral directors have denied anyone these forms to my knowledge at this time. She did agree that funeral directors would have to list their fees on their schedule of services . This essentially will force our members to use/buy a service that they neither want nor need as we are almost two hundred miles from the capitol where these forms are free.
5 Friday, 04 May 2012 13:55
Lucy Basler
We can always count on a succinct reply from you, Josh.
Thank you. Please keep us informed.
6 Monday, 07 May 2012 20:20
Olivia Bareham
Thank you Josh! It is a real comfort to know you are watching our backs and keeping us informed. Bless you for standing up for our Final Rights - we need you!
7 Monday, 03 December 2012 19:08
Robert Moninger
I contacted Gay-Ciha Funeral Home in Iowa City this afternoon. They will provide Burial-Transit permits without charge, requiring only the same information that the county Registrars did in the past.

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