Posted By lisacarlson on February 17, 2012
While most people would prefer to die at home, nearly half the deaths in the U.S. either occur or are confirmed in a hospital. With the growing interest in home funerals, more and more families want to take charge of this intimate and critical life event. One pediatric oncology nurse says she’s seen a dramatic difference in healing when parents who have lost a child have had a hands-on funeral experience.
And yet some hospitals refuse to release a dead body to anyone but a funeral director, someone who may even be a stranger to the family. Why? “Liability,” some hospitals have claimed. What liability, I would ask? Hospitals routinely release new-borns to their parents. They routinely release Grandpa after he’s recovered from his heart attack to anyone who will pick him up. And just what is the “liability” if the new-born was a still-birth or Grandpa didn’t survive his heart attack? There certainly isn’t much more a family could do to make them deader than they already are.
If anything, hospitals that have such restrictive policies are creating their own liability, a lawsuit for interfering with the right of the family to possess the body for the purpose of burial and mourning (1995, federal court decision, Whaley v. County of Tuscola; preceded in 1909 by Wyeth v. Cambridge). And when releasing to the family, there certainly won’t be any law suit for a mistaken identity release as has happened in various states.
To their credit, most hospitals have come a long way in dealing with death, especially in the case of infant deaths. Years ago, a dead child was whisked out of sight, with no chance for the mother to hold the babe and mourn. Most hospitals now know that facing the death physically is an important part of healing for that mom.
So are funeral arrangements for a growing number of families. Out of the total, home funerals are likely to be only a few. But for each of those families who choose that option, a hospital should be well-enough educated to facilitate (not hinder) that choice . . . with a comprehensive bank of “how-to” information if the family needs it. In Vermont, the state Health Department has fulfilled that role. But state hospital associations could do the same. Knowing the laws in every state, I’d be willing to help!