Final Rights

Reclaiming the American Way of Death

Minnesota undertakers’ trade group thinks it owns your dead body

Posted By on May 29, 2011

In Final Rights we talk about the pervasive attitude in the funeral industry that undertakers have a natural right to the custom and patronage of every grieving family in their town. House Bill 1744 puts that on brazen display. Just a year after activists helped roll back unnecessary legislation that had restricted a family’s right to care for their own dead, the Minnesota Funeral Director’s Association has convinced a lawmaker to sponsor a bill that would give undertakers the sole legal right to your remains—and the profit they can extract from your family.

HB 1744:

  • Gets rid of the right of religious groups to transport the dead
  • Erases a section of law that makes it clear that  families don’t have to be licensed as funeral directors to carry out their own funerals privately, and deletes language that shows someone other than a funeral director can complete and file the death record.
  • Would require casket sales to be conducted only by licensed funeral homes. Would the state prosecute a woodworker who sells a pine box to his neighbor for burial?
  • Requires crematories to hire a licensed funeral director, an unnecessary cost that does nothing to protect the public but a lot to prop up funeral directors’ monopoly on the dead body business
  • Gets rid of dry ice as an acceptable substitute for embalming

This is outrageous, which would be immediately apparent to lawmakers if the topic were anything other than funerals. Imagine a daycare trade association proposing a bill that would strip mothers of the right to drive their child to and from school, require all parents to hire a daycare facility rather than staying at home to care for a child with chicken pox, and give daycares the exclusive right to sell babysitting services, baby monitors, or diapers.

Such a proposal would be laughed out of the room, and so should this one. The funeral business is so mysterious to most people that they forget to apply common sense to the idea of caring for the dead. There is nothing a funeral home does (except embalming, which isn’t even required by law) that a family cannot. Anyone who has changed a baby’s diaper or fed and sponge-bathed a dying grandmother already knows how to prepare a body (even if they don’t know they know). The only legal requirements are a properly filed death certificate (the doctor, not a funeral director, certifies the medical cause of death), a few permits for transportation, and the body’s eventual disposition at a cemetery, crematory, or medical school. There are no special skills required for driving a vehicle in which the passenger is not breathing.

We urge any lawmakers supporting this bill to pull their support. We know legislators don’t intend to restrict family choice, and we know the industry is very good at making it seem as though there’s a problem with family-directed funerals. But it isn’t true. And know that the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association is on record blatantly lying before the Minnesota legislature in their attempt to shut down family-directed funerals in 2009. The former State Epidemiologist for Minnesota, Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, called them out on it in a letter supporting HF3151 (a bill in 2010 that passed):

In the recent Senate hearing, I had the opportunity to hear the testimony of a representative ofthe Minnesota Funeral Home Directors Association. Frankly, I was extremely disappointed by the scare tactics they used in that testimony to suggest to the Committee that dead bodies in general pose a significant infectious disease risk. As I stated before, unless there is the use ofsharps, including needles and scalpels or high speed saws, to enter the body cavity, there simply is no measurable risk of that body transmitting an infectious disease agent. The use of embalming is of no consequence in reducing this risk. Rather, embalming for such a body merely delays the normal biologic processes that cause the bloating and disfigurement ofthe body. The use of dry ice during those first days following death will accomplish the same cosmetic effect.

Dr. Osterholm’s testimony helped pass HF 3151.

The current bill has only just been introduced. But Minnesotans concerned about making sure it goes no further should contact the volunteer advocacy group the Minnesota Threshold Network.


3 Responses to “Minnesota undertakers’ trade group thinks it owns your dead body”

  1. Lisa Carlson says:

    One has to compare MFDA (and this bill) to a two-year-old who wants to hog all the toys in the sand box (even if he doesn’t know yet how to play with them). The national funeral directors’ exam has *nothing*–let me repeat *nothing*–on the exam about running a crematory. And yet this bill would require a crematory to have a funeral director on staff. Are funeral directors that hard up for employment?

  2. Cathy Gormanson says:

    I’m appalled! As a Wisconsin resident, I have always looked to the Minnesota legislature as a progressive leader in areas of “self directed” living issues showing the way for Wisconsin to look to and follow. I pray that this bill comes to Light and gets the thrashing it deserves.

  3. wondering says:

    Just wondering if any action’s been taken on this proposal?

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