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Wall Street Journal on the Undertakers vs. the Monks

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8/27/2010— The Wall Street Journal has an excellent piece on the Louisiana Funeral Board's embarrassing crusade to put the Benedictine Monks out of the casket business. Some LA undertakers offered some choice quotes:

"They're cutting into our profit," says Leonard Dunn, the owner of Serenity Funeral Home, located a short drive from the abbey. He adds. "I don't think the monks are actually making the caskets—I think it's a marketing gimmick."
Boyd Mothe Jr., a member of the fifth generation of his family to run Mothe Funeral Homes outside New Orleans, says Louisiana's law should remain on the books because licensed directors have the training to sell caskets—transactions he calls "complicated." For instance, he says, "a quarter of America is oversized. I don't even know if the monks know how to make an oversized casket."
Some in the industry complain that Funeral Consumers Alliance unfairly smears the industry's reputation. We don't need to, since funeral directors are doing such a competent job themselves.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 02 March 2011 22:51 )
 

Louisiana goes after monastery for selling coffins; monks sue

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UPDATE 7/23/2011---Chalk up another loss for the bier barons. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Lousiana ruled the state's ban on retail casket sales is unconstitutional. Judge Stanward R. Duval, Jr.'s opinion is particularly damning to the state's claim that the law, which allows only licensed funeral directors with full-service funeral homes to sell caskets, was essential for "public health and safety."

Clearly, [Louisiana’s Embalming and Funeral Directors Act] does not protect consumers from higher prices. Moreover, the fact that any Louisianian can purchase a casket on line without the “aid” of a funeral director results in the only persons being protected are the funeral directors of Louisiana and their coffers. The Act only applies to in-state sales. Other forms of distribution (such as delivery in Louisiana of containers purchased out-of-state, gift and home manufacture for personal use) are not prohibited.

Last Updated ( Friday, 05 August 2011 13:40 ) Read more...
 

California Audit: $70 Million in Prepaid Funeral Money Misused

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7/6/2010 --- Need one more reason not to prepay for your final arrangements? California regulators announced that one of the largest trust funds holding consumers' (that's you) prepaid funeral/cremation/burial money has misused $70 million. The California Funeral and Cemetery Bureau audited the California Master Trust and found [CLICK READ MORE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE]:

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 20 October 2010 14:40 ) Read more...
 

Virginia Passes Refrigeration Law

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6/18/2010 — In response to the discovery of corpses left out of refrigeration to rot and leak in a back room of National Funeral Home in Falls Church (owned by megaconglomerate SCI), the Virginia Legislature passed a law requiring funeral homes to refrigerate or embalm bodies if more than 48 hours passes after death and before disposition. Importantly, the law bars funeral homes from embalming without the express permission of the family. This means funeral homes will have to offer refrigeration as standard practice, and won't be able to force families to "choose" embalming in order to comply with the 48-hour rule (which unfortunately occurs in many states).

Here's how the Washington Post described the scene at National Funeral Home back in 2009:

During his time there, Napper [a former embalmer turned whistleblower] said, as many as 200 corpses were left on makeshift gurneys in the garage, in hallways and in a back room, unrefrigerated and leaking fluids onto the floor. Some were stored on cardboard boxes or were balanced on biohazard containers. At least half a dozen veterans destined for the hallowed ground at Arlington National Cemetery were left in their coffins on a garage rack, Napper said.

- hat tip to Brian Ditzler of the FCA of Maryland and Environs for alerting us to the new law.

 

 

Last Updated ( Thursday, 29 July 2010 00:37 )
 

Catholic Cemeteries Protest Regulation, Delay Bill to Protect Cemetery Consumers

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4/14/2010— An alarmist letter from the Catholic Cemeteries Conference (CCC, a lobbying association) delayed the mark-up of HR3655, the Bereaved Consumers Bill of Rights Act of 2009. Sponsor Bobby Rush pulled the bill from markup in the House Energy and Commerce Committee May 5 after the CCC sent a letter to lawmakers full of  exaggerated and just plain false claims. HR3655 would extend the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule to cemeteries, crematories, and third-party merchandise sellers. Consumers would have the right to printed, itemized price lists, freedom of choice in purchase, and accurate information. The bill will likely be resubmitted to the Committee after Rep. Rush has time to consider the situation.

In a bid to persuade lawmakers to exempt religious cemeteries from  minimal requirements for transparency, the CCC claimed the bill would interfere with the religious freedoms of Catholic cemeteries through the "federalization of local religious operations," and by allowing the government to "polic[e] what religious organizations say to their members.” Objecting to the idea that Catholics who buy burials at church cemeteries are "consumers"—and ignoring the fact that parishioners usually pay thousands of dollars for the privilege—the Conference claimed Catholic cemeteries were a "ministry," and therefore off-limits to regulators.

Crying government interference with religious practice is fightin' words in the United States. Real instances of government meddling  in religious practices should alarm anyone, but the CCC is crying wolf. Nothing in HR3655 would interfere in any way with the religious burial rites or practices of any faith tradition. It would merely:

  • Require all cemeteries to give grieving families printed price lists before they buy
  • Require all cemeteries to give families copies of cemetery rules and regulations on permissible monuments, maintenance, etc.
  • Give all cemetery consumers the right to buy only the merchandise they desire, and allow them to buy cemetery goods from third party vendors
  • Prohibit cemeteries from lying about legal requirements (claiming, for example, that grave vaults are required by law)
How would this interfere with any religious ritual? What religion holds an an article of faith that members who pay for church-run cemetery services should be denied price and rule information? None, of course, and we can't imagine why any religiously operated cemetery would object to rules that require ethical, honest, transparent treatment of vulnerable consumers during a difficult and costly transaction.

Funeral Consumers Alliance pushed back with a letter correcting the misinformation and fear-mongering. We noted:

  • The bill imposes next-to-no costs, just the price of a few sheets of paper and the time it takes to alert staff of consumer rights
  • The nation's 21,000 funeral homes have been subject to these same rules for 26 years and no harm has come to the mortuary business
  • Families who choose burial in religious cemeteries deserve the same basic consumer protections as all other families

 

Last Updated ( Thursday, 29 July 2010 00:36 )
 


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