Funeral Director Reaction to FCA Article Split

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-  Josh Slocum, FCA Executive Director

I posted my commentary on NFDA's Green Burial Idemnification form to a funeral director's email discussion list. I wanted to know what the members thought of the issue. The split in the responses has been fascinating. Several funeral directors offered thoughtful, considered, and pro-consumer positions. This alone made the post worth it. Despite what some undertakers think, I actually like meeting thoughtful industry people to put on my electronic Rolodex. If I didn't have a group of trustworthy, honest people in the business to consult with and learn from, I couldn't do my job effectively.

But whoah, nelly, did the conversation take a wrong turn. I started a brief discussion about the practice of mandating that customers do an "identification viewing" of a dead body, and a funeral director who calls herself "Morticia" went apoplectic. I'm still wondering what I said that got her formaldehyde boiling over. See if you can figure it out. I've pasted the good, the bad, and the ugly below.  Comments welcome and encouraged. . ..

NOTE TO CONSUMERS: Before you read the email chain, here's the bottomline message. You don't have to be forced into an ID viewing of the body, and you have the right to decline any charges associated with it that you didn't ask for. Of course, you're welcome to request that service from a funeral home. Anyone who wants to spend good-bye time with the deceased should be able to do this. But those who find the idea disturbing have the right to say no.

Hi all,

I'd be interested in your take on an open letter to NFDA I posted to the Funeral Consumers Alliance Web site. It's the top story at I don't think NFDA is serving their member funeral homes or consumers well by resorting to scare tactics and inaccurate information about green burial.

My question to all of you, as funeral directors, is, what would you think if you were confronted with this indemnification form? Do you agree or disagree with it, and why or why not?

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and please feel free to leave a public comment on the article at All comments are welcome, even if you disagree.

Josh Slocum
Executive Director
Funeral Consumers Alliance


I dropped our membership in NFDA some years ago, as I was getting nothing from them and they had little to offer me.

In my opinion, Mr. Gilligan must make his employers happy, so he created the forms and opinions that he was told to do. I am not sure he is the one making NFDA look like "reactionary dinosaurs" as they have been doing it themselves for years.

He is a consultant. I have hired consultants over the years and after I read their reports, it is me that decides how to run my business. The funeral directors that ate still having families sign reams of indemnification forms regarding the FTC Funeral Rule, will, no doubt, anxiously add this to their arsenal. Those of us that have let go of the fear and embraced the disclosures and openness that is the spirit of the "Rule" will soon forget Mr. Gilligan's article.

"The Director" is rightly commended for taking on such a controversial subject and making it the topic for much of the edition. There were many good articles and viewpoints. You (and Joe Sehee) are correct in that if there had been such open and honest discussion of cremation in the 1960's we, as a profession, would not have had our head buried in the sand for so long. Nor would we have had to spend the last 20 years trying to correct the course and get back into the business of satisfying our customers needs. This is one reason we, at Bissler & Sons, have embraced the concepts of Green Burial (well actually we have been involved in Jewish and Muslim services for decades). I do not intend to spend time with my head in the sand then spend so much time trying to get back ahead of the issue.

There are two kinds of people in the world... those that say "Can do." and those that start listing ALL the reasons they could not possibly change. Green Burial is a choice. Every family has a different reason behind their choice, but it is still their choice. To ensure our future in business, we must honor their choice and say "Can do."


Rick Bissler
Bissler & Sons Funeral Home and Crematory

Hi Rick,

Thanks for such a sensible, interesting response. I know many funeral directors who share your opinions about NFDA, customer service, and new options. I'm glad to know guys like you are in business.


Joshua Slocum


Imagine what Jessica Mitford would say when she read the advisory! Green funerals have been performed for thousands of years by Jews, Christians and Muslims. The choice to embalm is a relatively recent choice as is the choice to cremate. The funeral industry chose to ignore cremationists, hoping that they would simply go away or change their minds. Steven Prothero writes that the funeral industry had two choices, get on the bandwagon or lose the business to the company down the street. In the end, they hopped on the bandwagon. Mike Kubasaks book about embracing cremation by funeral homes rather than shooing the business away should be ringing bells now when it comes to green funerals.

At the funeral home, we have a policy of having the family make an ID of their loved one regardless of the type of disposal chosen. Families who choose direct cremation must either identify their loved one in person or provide a recent picture of the deceased for the staff. In this case the body is placed on a clean sheet on a stretcher or in the cremation container, discreetly covered and wheeled into a quiet room where the family can sit, stand and remain for as long as they choose. Some stay minutes, others much longer. The only reason for not having a family near the corpse is if we receive a letter from the hospital coroner which states the body is
a health risk to staff and visitors.

It is my understanding that a dead body has fewer contagions than a live body because the temperature drops and the viruses and bacteria which are very sensitive then die. Of course there are microbes to be dealt with on other levels. Embalming is extremely invasive and as such not everyone is comfortable with pumping the body with chemical. I believe that Jessica Mitford addresses this very issue in both her books (1963, 1998) with a coroner. As for green containers not being sturdy, do we question whether cremation containers are sturdy? How many times have we seen foldup cardboard inserts or waxed cardboard containers being used to encase a body?

Green does not mean flimsy. Of course in a truly green funeral there may not be a container and the funeral may be held in a "green" area which is forested (currently practised in England and several states) and families are welcomed to come to the preserved area which remains a home to wildlife and fauna. The point of moving a body later to another resting spot would be, in my experience, rather an unusual change of mind and heart. Other than exhuming for a specific purpose, our dead seem to be quite comfortablein their original resting places.

The operative word in funeral service is service. It seems that this concept needs to be refreshened particulary when it comes to how we deal with the choices consumers are making today and are going to be making tomorrow.

Kathy Jackson,
PhD candidate McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario

Thanks Kathy,

. . .for a thoughtful and compassionate take on this issue. I agree wholeheartedly with your take on things.

I have only one point I wanted to make regarding what you wrote here:

"At the funeral home, we have a policy of having the family make an ID of their loved one regardless of the type of disposal chosen. Families who choose direct cremation must either identify their loved one in person or provide a recent picture of the deceased for the staff."

I believe it should be always and only the family's choice, not the funeral home's, whether to view the body. In the US, it would be illegal to force a viewing, and usually to deny one. I understand the concerns funeral homes have about correct identification. I think these are best handled by adhering to a strict protocol of making sure the body is identified at the place of death before removal, that it's tagged or wrist-banded, that paper work is cross-checked between funeral staff and the hospital or institution, etc.

My best,

Josh Slocum


I'd like to chime in on this one. I believe the family *must* identify the body before any disposition takes place. I do not consider properly identifying the deceased as "optional." In many cases, the funeral home owners and staff members will not personally know the deceased -- and even if they did, this does not absolve the person with the right of disposition from making the identification and providing truthful information about the deceased (e.g., correct social security number). I hope we understand the difference between "making an identification" and "a viewing." Something about an ounce of prevention comes to mind. : )

Just my humble opinion . . . and has nothing to do with the fact that I teach Mortuary Law. : ) Thanks for listening. Monica
Monica Vernette Gray, MBA & LFDE
Morticia's Funeral Services, Inc.
Illinois Funeral Directors Association (IFDA) District 2A Secretary


I agree with you that families need to be responsible, and I think asking for a photograph is a reasonable request. Forcing a viewing is not. And no, calling it an "identification" doesn't make it *not* a viewing. I'm surprised to hear you say this, since you teach mortuary law. The Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule, as we know, forbids funeral homes from conditioning one service on the purchase of another, and forbids funeral homes from making anything a "required" purchase unless that item is required by law.

Even if you don't charge specifically for this ID (and you're not charging the family for "preparation" without giving them a choice, I'm sure), it still doesn't make it right to demand that they view a body if they don't want to.

I certainly understand the need for due diligence, which is why I suggested the protocol for ID'ing a body at the place of death. But no funeral home has a right to force a family to view (or ID, pick your term, it's all the same).

- Josh Slocum

If Mr. Slocum owned a funeral home, he might be inclined to see the
liability reason for insisting upon a physical identification. Families can also
designate another person to act in this capacity. I don't think any funeral
home would make a professional charge for an identification viewing.
"Preparation" is not required, and there are no contingent purchases being demanded.

- David A. Kesner

Mr Kesner,

I do understand about liability. I just disagree that a forced ID viewing is the right or ethical solution to it. That's why I suggested another protocol.

Unfortunately, I have seen many funeral homes make a mandatory charge for this, or for the associated prep. I know that's shocking to the ethical funeral directors reading this, but I promise you I'm not making it up. I wish I were. I've studied price lists from at least a thousand funeral homes around the country, and this is an unfortunately common practice. Believe me, I wish it weren't so.

- Josh Slocum

With all due respect Mr. Slocum, you do not sound like a funeral service practitioner. If you were truly a practitioner "in the trenches" with the rest of us, you would know that most families **WANT** to see their deceased loved ones. They do not consider it a burden or a chore to view and identify their loved ones. What you represent and stand for is an embarrassment to our industry -- I said "our" because I am a licensed funeral service practitioner who finds your "logic" (for lack of a more polite term) offensive.

For your enlightenment, a detailed explanation of "viewing for identification" according to Ralph L. Klicker, Ph.D., can be found on pages 91 - 92 in "Funeral Directing and Funeral Service Management." Dr. Klicker cites Mike Kubasak (2002): " . . . identification makes sense professionally, practically, and legally for the following reasons:

"1. Identification certifies that this is the right person beyond any doubt; 2. Identification underscores the professional responsibilities we assume in providing disposition; 3. Identification stresses the irreversibility of the cremation process; and 4. Identification facilitates the process of grieving. . . ."

Additional guidelines are offered, including identification by photo (with recommended protocols). Further stating -- and I sincerely hope this helps you: "4. During the arrangement conference, families should be informed that identification viewing is not the same as formal viewing and that it is a very time-limited act, usually taken from several seconds to several minutes. Frank discussion reduces the possibility of misunderstanding about its purpose." Obviously somebody needs to have this "frank discussion with you."

IMHO, of course. Thanks. Monica

Monica Vernette Gray, MBA & LFDE
Morticia's Funeral Services, Inc.
Illinois Funeral Directors Association (IFDA) District 2A Secretary

Ms. Gray,

I'd appreciate you not taking a rude and condescending tone of voice with me. We don't have to agree with each other, but I'm trying to treat you with respect nonetheless. Huffing and puffing at me and calling me an "embarrassment" is uncalled for. I wouldn't treat you that way, and I'm surprised you're angry enough to insult me without provocation.

Just so you know, I'm not a practitioner. I'm the Executive Director of Funeral Consumers Alliance. You can visit us at And before you raise your voice, electronically speaking, to call me "the enemy," please respond to my actual points, not your perception of who I am. I'll give you the same courtesy, I promise.

I support consumer choice. I do not support forcing consumers to do anything they don't want to do, or denying them something they have a right to do. That means I am against forcing families to view people if they don't want to, and I'm against denying them the right to view their loved ones. That seems to me a reasonable, compassionate, and fair attitude that respects all points of view, the majority and the minority. Is that really so embarrassing or radical?

I do not need to be "educated" about what an identification viewing is, and overly long justifications of it to plump up a textbook's authority doesn't make it anything special. It is what it is.


Josh Slocum

Mr. Slocum -- "insulting" to me is non-licensed, non-practitioners making mountains out of molehills -- or mountains out of nothing -- blowing smoke, creating crisises, etc. The LAST thing the funeral service industry needs is a "alliance" or "advocacy" group encouraging people not to visually identify their loved ones before disposition. PLEASE -- you didn't even have to tell me you were not a licensed practitioner!!!

I don't want your respect. I do, however, treasure the respect of my peers, colleagues, and fellow practitioners who have to work with families who come into their establishments AFTER speaking with someone like YOU. PLEASE. Gee thanks a lot. Monica
Monica Vernette Gray, MBA & LFDE
Morticia's Funeral Services, Inc.
Illinois Funeral Directors Association (IFDA) District 2A Secretary

Ms. Gray,

I'm sorry to hear you say that. I think everyone, regardless of their point of view, deserves respect and a fair hearing. I think people on opposite sides of an issue can learn a lot from each other; and I think that's far more productive than screeching at each other from entrenched partisan positions. I'm sorry that you feel the need to treat me like an enemy. This exchange might make an eye-opening read for the public as a blog entry at

Josh Slocum

Be my guest.  Whatever.

Monica Vernette Gray, MBA & LFDE
Morticia's Funeral Services, Inc.
Illinois Funeral Directors Association (IFDA) District 2A Secretary

P.S. from Josh Slocum - What's the point of publishing this? I think it's instructive for the public to know the diversity of opinion on funeral consumer issues that exists in the industry itself. I also think it's high time the public had a glimpse of some of  the anti-consumer - and just plain nasty - rhetoric that goes on behind the scenes in the funeral industry. Funeral people frequently charge FCA with being "hateful," "anti-funeral," "liars," "hell-bent on destroying funeral service," you name it. It doesn't matter how calm or reasonable our positions are; some funeral directors get near-hysterical at  the most mild disagreement. The tirade from "Morticia" is not uncommon, sadly. If funeral service doesn't like being portrayed as insular, self-protecting, and predatory, it would be a good start to refrain from insulting consumer advocates for their very existence.

UPDATE:  The conversation continued. To read the later emails, click "next."

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 24 September 2008 19:45 )  
Comments (7)
1 Thursday, 11 September 2008 20:46

Are you implying that most FDs don't know the identity of the bodies they've picked up and therefore have to rely on family ID-ing to be sure? I find that an astonishing admission of industry incompetence.
2 Thursday, 11 September 2008 21:18
Hello Ms. Carlson. In response to your question, I am not implying that most funeral directors do not know the identity of the bodies they have removed from the place of death. Unfortunately, identity mistakes are made at the institutions where the deceased are removed (e.g. hospitals and nursing homes). I did not make any admission of industry incompetence. Rather, I represent and support due diligence as well as carefully carrying out the duties of a funeral service practitioner.

What you are not privileged to is the well-written explanation from Ms. Kathy Jackson explaining why her funeral home requires the identification. That explanation would have fully answered your question, as she provided an example of what can happen when the body is not properly identified.

Unfortunately, Mr. Slocum (the original poster) is not a licensed funeral practitioner. While his watchdog crusading intentions may be pure, it is unfair of him to paint the funeral service industry with a brush of incompetence. It has been my experience that most families want to see their deceased loved ones before they are buried or cremated.

[[NOTE FROM JOSH SLOCUM AT FCA - Monica, thanks for your comments. They're welcome here, even if I disagree. But please don't accuse me of things I didn't say. I certainly did not "paint the funeral service industry with a brush of incompetence." Please criticize me only for the things I did say. Further, I don't believe anyone is required to have a funeral director's license to comment on practices that affect all consumers.To satisfy your concerns, I'll add Kathy Jackson's comments to this thread]].

I am more than willing to answer any questions you may have about the funeral service industry. I can be reached at Thank you for your question.
3 Thursday, 11 September 2008 21:42
Thank you Mr. Slocum for posting Ms. Jackson's latest reply to our discussion on the other thread. I believe that was the right thing to do. I will acknowledge that you did post this response on the other thread.

As far as me accusing you of things you didn't say, I reached my conclusion based on the "feedback" response you received from Lisa Carlson. If she reached the conclusion: "I find that an astonishing admission of industry incompetence," then it's a fair to conclude that your words incited Ms. Carlson to respond in kind.

If we are truly going to be fair, the issue on the other discussion thread was *not* whether funeral directors know the identity of bodies they remove from places of death. However, look at the tone that discussion has taken on this site. It's close, but no cigar. However, free speech is free speech.

I also agree with Ms. Jackson that the three of us are trying to say some of the same things. Competently serving our families is always going to the priority. Thanks for the opportunity to post on your site.
4 Thursday, 11 September 2008 21:50
Josh Slocum
Thanks for commenting, Monica. But everyone has to be responsible for his/her own words. I won't take responsibility for Ms. Carlson's words or for yours, only for my own. Commenters sometimes come to conclusions we don't like, but that doesn't make the original author responsible:) As a former newspaper reporter, I sure know what it's like when you can't please any reader!

You or anyone else is always welcome to comment here, and to say what you need to say. Open dialogue is crucial, and agreement isn't required. It's all to the greater good.


Josh S.
5 Thursday, 11 September 2008 22:12
Thanks so much for this opportunity to post or share with your readers.
6 Friday, 29 May 2009 21:31
Kellyanne Gormley
I am a college student working on a research paper for Funeral Directors and happened upon this site, and this whole episode. I am not in the "profession" either, but I am surprised at the lack of propietry in the discussion by Ms. Gray. If she would like an explanation to the painting of the industry with an unfair label, perhaps she should look inward. It is widely known that there are numerous FD who take complete advantage of the grief of the loved ones, because they know that they can. From unecessary charges of pushing for more expensive equipment and services that are not needed, to trying to sell pre-paid funerals. It is a fact that the average American family spends 2 to 5 times more than they need to.

The responses seem to be extrememly defensive which would make the consumer(me) wonder why she is so quick to defend in such a way. I would agree that viewing should be up to the individual, not the industry. Perhaps she does not want the "secrets" of the industry to get out in the open.
7 Sunday, 18 August 2013 23:17
patrick huey
As both a licensed funeral director/embalmer and a certified crematory operator as well I cannot stress enough the immense amount of liability that is involved regarding proper identification of deceased prior to final disposition, most especially when cremation is chosen. We funeral practitioners have no way of knowing that a body we remove from a hospital, nursing home, medical examiner's office, etc. is actually that of said deceased, unless in a healthcare setting the family happens to be there at the time of removal. I would by all means ask for at least a photo for staff to make positive identification with, otherwise if family refuses to ID the body, then by all means out with the indemnification form for them to sign. Yes, there have been institutions that have mis-labeled bodies that were then cremated without a family member's positive ID. Not only was the responsible institution sued, but both the funeral home and crematory both as well. Unfortunately we live in a society that revels in lawsuits. This can ruin a funeral home instantly as well as place undue anguish on a family. It is an unfortunate fact that all these various indemnification forms are a must now, but one lawsuit is all it takes to ruin a firm and its employees. For my own sake, the families I serve, that of my employer, as well as those that depend on me to keep food on the table, I do all I can to protect all involved regardless of whether a family does not like said indemnification form.

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