Utah - Freedom to Care for One's Own Dead restored - 2009

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3/25/2009 UPDATE - HB 265 has been signed into law by the Utah governor!


2/15/2009
- Joyce Mitchell called us crying with happiness today; after tireless organizing, lobbying, and testifying, this one-woman powerhouse got a bill passed in the Utah House to restore citizens' rights to care for their own dead.

"I can't believe it," Mitchell said by cell-phone after the vote, laughing and sniffling at the same time. "If it weren't for [the national FCA], the FCA Biennial Conference last year, and the FCA email discussion list, I couldn't have done. You all kept up my enthusiasm and broke me out of my apathy."

Actually, Mitchell, the President of the FCA of Utah, is the real heroine. Outraged at a 2006 law that forced Utah citizens to hire funeral homes if they wanted a completed death certificate and custody of the body, Mitchell rounded up families and home funeral activists to testify to the Utah House. David Robles and his wife, Marcia Robles-Racehorse, consumer advocates from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe in Idaho, were particularly helpful, as were Native American leaders who supported HB 265 . The bill passed the House overwhelmingly, and Mitchell has found a Senate supporter to shepherd the bill through the senate.

Mitchell's success is a testament to what "ordinary" citizens can do when they remember that the government serves the people, not the other way around. Mitchell put up a website dedicated to the issue , gathered families who'd been affected by the 2006 law, and gave Powerpoint presentations on the issue to legislative committees.

Hats off to all of you who went to the mat on this important issue. Your work has restored a fundamental freedom for all Utah families. Special thanks to Rep. Brad Daw, who understood the injustice of depriving families of control over their death rituals, and who was willing to stand up for the right thing.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 26 March 2009 17:04 )  
Comments (7)
1 Tuesday, 12 October 2010 19:54
Allen
Can you tell me how to transport a body that has had a full autopsy performed, that is sewn loose, wrapped in plastic, and has massive amounts of blood everywhere inside without spilling, or spreading any blood borne pathogen to my vehicle or house or anything that it touches? This seems to be a very difficult thing to imagine.
2 Tuesday, 12 October 2010 19:57
Allen
Is it appropriate to put your mother, father, loved one, in the back of a pickup truck with them wrapped in this plastic for the public to see? Do you have any justification for the public potentially witnessing blood running out of the back of your truck, or car door or whatever you're transporting with? Can you put them in the trunk? How about sitting up in the front seat? It's all fine and dandy until you get down to the details.
3 Tuesday, 12 October 2010 21:55
Allen
What about the general public and the laws that are broken time after time with DIY'ers in regards to refrigeration and burial. Who is overseeing this? Who is looking out for the publics health and welfare? Not the FCA, or had you thought about these issues before emotionally testifying for these changes? I'm all for the DIY'er, but they should also adhere to and be held to the same scrutiny that you are putting on the funeral industry. The FTC, the health department, DOPL, any other government oversight should be involved. Maybe a funeral home association can be formed to be alerted to DIY'er abuse of laws and how a body is cared for and then brought to the attention of the public to truly show what is potentially happening. Imagine the outrage the FCA would have if a funeral home put a plastic wrapped, blood covered body in the back of a truck to take home? You'd have a fit, yet you're more than willing to have the DIY'er have full reign without any oversight. The laws are there for everyone for a purpose.
4 Tuesday, 12 October 2010 22:04
Allen
I can't imagine why you're not commenting on my posts. It may be that you're not in your office after hours or available 24 hours a day like those hard working funeral directors are each and every day. I wonder if the hard working folks at other businesses that work 24 hours a day are paid, or does the FCA expect them to stop charging such high rates for their services? Maybe you should be the BCA (Business Consumer Alliance) and "expose" businesses that could cut down on costs by not having 24 hour service. Imagine the cost of goods in Wal-Mart if we didn't have more than one checker or stocker. Imagine the lowered cost of a hamburger if we didin't have to pay the overhead costs included for the building in that ever increasing hamburger. The outrage of having to charge for employees to do their job. By the way, I'm still waiting for my 24 hour response, but I'm sure you are tucked away in your extremely inexpensive bed and will be in the office during "normal business hours", unlike the funeral directors that you so readily despise for the services they provide.
5 Wednesday, 13 October 2010 11:01
Josh Slocum, FCA Executive Director
Allen:

I don't know what has provoked you into such a tirade of comments, but you need to calm down. Accusing people of ignoring you while insulting them is not the way to get a response. Do you think the small FCA staff (two full-time people and one half-timer) sits around doing nothing but monitoring comments on blog posts? No one promised you a 24-hour response on a blog comment. Had you called the office, or sent an email indicating you had an urgent need, someone would have gotten back to you.

1. No one is advocating breaking laws. What you don't understand is that many (in fact, most) laws around the country that require refrigeration or burial within a certain time-frame apply to *commercial funeral directors*, not to the actions of private families in their homes. In the cases where these laws apply to families as well, dry ice easily satisfies the cooling requirements.

We know the laws in all 50 states, Allen, and they're not identical to the laws in whichever state you might be writing from. We take our duty to be accurate seriously.

2. No one is advocating transporting bodies open, dripping with blood, in the back of a pick-up. This is a gruesome fantasy on your part, and I don't know why you immediately leap to that. Can you not understand why a family who cares very much about their deceased loved one would want to continue that care privately? Have you no sympathy for them? Can you not imagine wanting to to do the very same for your family?

As it happens, I've spoken to many families who've cared for a dead member who's been autopsied. Some appreciate the help of a funeral director to put the body back together, others have chose -yes, whether you believe it or not - to do this care themselves. Of course, anyone dealing with a body that's been opened should be using universal precautions, latex gloves, and the like. It is not your business (or my business), however, to pry into what a private family chooses to do, whether you approve of it or not.

Laws are not being broken will nilly by home funeral families, and I don't know where you're getting this idea. As I explained to you in another comment, I don't think you understand that the licensing regulations you have to obey as a funeral director usually do *not* have legal authority over private families.

As you can see, you are welcome to post comments here, and you are not being censored (even though you're quite insulting and you're accusing families of illegal and macabre behavior). But fair warning: do not continue to throw about insults and venom and expect to have a free sandbox to do it in. If you can't act like a gentleman and have a civilized conversation, I will start deleting your posts.

We do not hate funeral directors; we object to limitations on family choice, and we object to abusive practices. We know many fine funeral directors, including many who support a family's right to care for their own dead. They understand that it's a privilege to serve a family at a time of grief, and that the dead do not belong to them, but to their own kin. Do you?
6 Wednesday, 13 October 2010 11:49
Allen
Mr. Slocum, I can appreciate your calmness, and I admire someone who can look at a situation differently. I in no way was intending to belittle you or any of your staff for your working hours, only in that society as a whole expects funeral homes across the nation to pick up the phone at any given minute to answer questions and to assist them in their time of needs. I was simply pointing out that your office would also have to spend a considerable amount more on overhead if you have to pay employees to be on hand 24 hrs. a day. It seems that you want to lash out at funeral homes for charging money for 24 hr. services, but yet if a funeral home didn't answer that call at 2 a.m., you'd be right there to point out that deficiency in their services.

I suppose I do jump to the worst conclusions and results of changed laws. I guess that is what I was pointing out, is that people don't think this can or will happen. I know you're not advocating transportation in this manner, but the possibility is there. When this happens in our state, will you be standing next to the DIY'er on national tv saying that it was the right thing to do? I was not accusing families of any illegal acts or macabre behavior, I was simply saying that it was a possibility.

Why should a state law apply to funeral directors taking care of a deceased body and not to the general public for taking care of a deceased body?

I will try to be more calm in my responses and questions. As I stated in another post, it just seems like this "informational" site is geared toward the negative and fear mongering instead of positive reinforcement for the DIY'er.

I too have known many great funeral directors and owners, and have also known many DIY'ers. Both patrons and the DIY'ers have been very happy with the outcomes of their decisions. I actually do know that the deceased individual belongs to the family and not a business. And I don't think I have thrown any more insults or venom towards your company than you have towards the funeral industry as a whole. My sincere apologies if you feel otherwise.

Maybe my comments would be more appropriate in a private email rather than a public manner. I do apologize if my comments in the heat of the moment in seeing your site for the first time brought out the worst in me. Thank you for your time.
7 Wednesday, 13 October 2010 12:44
Josh Slocum, FCA Executive Director
Hi Allen,

Thanks for writing back. Yes, it's perfectly fine to have this kind of conversation publicly - it's instructive for people who come by the site. I have a few thoughts on your latest:

**I was simply pointing out that your office would also have to spend a considerable amount more on overhead if you have to pay employees to be on hand 24 hrs. a day. It seems that you want to lash out at funeral homes for charging money for 24 hr. services,**

FROM JOSH: Yes, but we're not a funeral home. In addition, all funeral home prices are not the same. What level of price do you think we're objecting to? Are you interested in learning that before you get angry at us? What level of pricing do you find defensible? See, Allen, you don't specify, you just object broadly. I don't know what to do with that (and I suspect you haven't taken the time to think about the different possibilities).

For example, some funeral homes charge very reasonable fees, and others outrageous ones. In the same city, I've seen non-declinable basic fees from $795 to $4,000. Both those funeral homes are available 24 hours. So, what justifies the difference (see how you can 't just claim "24-hour service" justifies any price, without specifying that price?)? Sure, some are fancier than others. But often, the really pricey outfits simply charge what they can get away with, whether it's reasonably related to the level of service they provide or not. That's just a fact, Allen, and it really is legitimate for an advocacy group to point it out. That's a lot of money.

But again, you didn't specify, you just asserted that FCA objects to pricing. That's not any way we can build a conversation.

**but yet if a funeral home didn't answer that call at 2 a.m., you'd be right there to point out that deficiency in their services. **

FROM JOSH: Actually, Allen, I wouldn't necessarily, which you'd have known if you'd asked me rather than making a snide statement.

First, you chose to go into funeral service, knowing it was a 24 hour job. No one made you do so.

Second, I don't actually think every funeral home should be required to be available 24 hours. I realize that with public expectations as they are (and as they've been created in part by funeral homes), that is a reality. But it's a peculiarly American reality. I've interviewed several English undertakers, for example, who are baffled by the American consumer's insistence on getting the body out of the home "right now" at 3 in the morning. They're equally baffled by the universal promotion of this service by funeral homes. These Brits say they'll ask families if they should come by right away, or if the family would prefer to have some private time at home, and have the hearse come-round in the morning. Most choose the latter. Outside of the US, people aren't so universally terrified of the dead such that they think the body must be whisked out of the bedroom on a moment's notice. Yes, I realize nursing home deaths are a different story.

**I suppose I do jump to the worst conclusions and results of changed laws. I guess that is what I was pointing out, is that people don't think this can or will happen. I know you're not advocating transportation in this manner, but the possibility is there. When this happens in our state, will you be standing next to the DIY'er on national tv saying that it was the right thing to do? I was not accusing families of any illegal acts or macabre behavior, I was simply saying that it was a possibility. **

FROM JOSH:
Anything is possible. Funeral homes are allowed by law to serve the public, yet we have Tri-State Crematory, with 334 unclaimed bodies. We see stories every week about the wrong body being cremated (by funeral homes), or the wrong body being placed in a grave (by a funeral home or a cemetery). Does that mean you think funeral homes should not be allowed to be in business? Of course not. So why are you so concerned about the "possibility" of mistreatment by a person's own family, the people who love them?

Families are allowed to live as they please. If grandma doesn't want to go to a nursing home, I'm allowed to care for her at home. The only time that can be taken away is if there's a legitimate accusation of elder abuse. We don't assume, as a matter of course, that a family is going to abuse grandma. So do you see why it's not reasonable to be immediately suspicious of a private, family-directed funeral?

**
Why should a state law apply to funeral directors taking care of a deceased body and not to the general public for taking care of a deceased body? **

FROM JOSH:
Let me give you some examples. Most of the regulations you have to follow are put in place because you, the funeral director, are in a commercial relationship with a family. In most cases, you - just by virtue of the fact that you're an expert, they're not; they're grieving, you're not - are in a position of unequal power. Regs are designed to protect people from unscrupulous businesses, not to *protect families from themselves*.

1. The FTC Funeral Rule requires you to give families a price list, for obvious reasons. Now, why would the Rule apply to a family? Should they have to give themselves a price list when they're doing their own funeral? That's nonsensical.

2. Most states require embalmers who sell their services to the public to go to mortuary school and pass a test. Why or how would this apply to the private family merely bathing grandpa at home for a private wake?

3. Many states require funeral homes to refrigerate or embalm a body within a number of days before disposition. There's a legitimate public policy reason to ensure families that the body will not decompose before they can arrange for the services they want. It's a protection for the family against the unfortunate occasions when an unethical funeral home may try to use the body as a bargaining chip. I know that's not usual, but it does happen.

Now, why or how would that apply to a home funeral? Despite industry rhetoric, dead bodies are not a health hazard in most cases (except to the embalmer who's opening up an otherwise intact body and exposing himself to lots of fluids). If a family chooses to keep a body at home for two or three days, there's usually little trouble, and if there's a concern, dry ice can be used.

Quite simply, it's not anyone else's business what a family chooses to do for a funeral in their own private home. There are cases, of course, where such laws apply to families, too, but that's not as frequent.

Think of this analogy: every state regulates restaurants, and most mandate that walk-in coolers be kept at a certain temperature, and at a certain cleanliness level. This is to protect the dining public from food poisoning, which they can't personally control if they're paying someone else to cook their food.

But no state restaurant regulations apply to your own kitchen. It may be unwise to use the same cutting board for raw chicken and vegetables, but we don't permit the state to come and boss us around in our own kitchens.

I think you're having a hard time seeing the private funeral in the same terms as you see any other private sphere of activity. You'd consider it an outrage for the state to compel you to "prove" you weren't going to medically neglect your children before you were "allowed" to take care of them at home if they had the flu. You'd consider it an egregious intrusion of your privacy if the state told you it was illegal to care for your mother at home as she died of cancer, because there was a "possibility" that you might hasten her death.

It's just the same with funeral matters. It only seems shocking to you because you're on the inside, and you're very used to funerals going the conventional way. If you can step back from your role as a professional, I think you'd probably agree.

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