As history has proven, the funeral industry does not always have our best interests at heart. Before I explain how the proposed “Storage of Body” bill will impact us, let me first make you aware of a growing movement.
Across the United States, many families are starting to keep their loved ones who have just died at home, either to have a home funeral or simply to spend time with them before letting go. This is done by the means of what is termed “natural death care.” We explain it further in this section of our website, but let me give you the short version here.
Natural death care is the process of caring for the body of someone who has died at home. It sometimes includes a home funeral with the body present, at other times the body is sent to a funeral home for cremation or burial after the family has said goodbye. The family can care for the body themselves using dry ice or gel packs, or they can hire an expert to handle these details for them. While it is not common, some families have kept a loved one at home for well over a week.
Although I have yet to attend a home funeral, I have been told by many that it is a most personal and loving way to honor a departed loved one. Let me paint you a picture. Typically, the family uses a plain casket, cardboard box or natural burial shroud to lay out their loved one on a bed or in the living room. The family, and perhaps friends, then gather for a touching homespun funeral. It might even take place in the backyard.
And yes, this practice is completely legal. But, as you can imagine, the funeral industry, or at least certain funeral directors, do not want to lose business because families are having their own funeral services at home. In fact, as the practice gains interest and momentum, many in the industry see it as a threat.
This is where Virginia Senator Kenneth C. Alexander comes in. He is the author of Virginia’s Senate Bill 595, which aims to block families from keeping a loved who has died at home. Also a funeral director, he owns a chain of three Metropolitan Funeral Service funeral homes and chapels in Virginia.
Last year, the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill introduced by Sen. Alexander that requires funeral directors to provide “refrigeration” of a body within 48 hours of death. However, this bill apparently wasn’t sufficient to accomplish the senator’s aims, since families could still store bodies at home as long as they were kept cool. With the new bill, SB 595, he took the mandate a step further, adding language that states “any person or institution that has custody of the body” must refrigerate the body at no more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit after 48 hours. If this is not possible, the body must be stored by “local funeral service.” The newly introduced language is shown below.
SB 595 Dead human bodies; storage of body for more than 48 hours prior to disposition.
SUMMARY AS INTRODUCED:
Dead bodies; storage. Requires any person or institution that has initial custody of a dead human body to ensure that the dead body is maintained in refrigeration at no more than approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit or to enter into an agreement with a local funeral service establishment to store the body.
The bill has passed in the Senate and is now on its way to the Assembly. It is expected to reach the Assembly floor on February 16th.
Sen. Alexander is obviously trying to protect his funeral home interests while ignoring the fact that natural death care consultants (also called home funeral guides) have already helped hundreds of families across the United States care for their loved ones who have died at home. Also called home funeral consultants, many of these experts are trained by the National Home Funeral Alliance (NHFA), an organization dedicated to natural death care. Many bodies have been kept with their loved ones well past 48 hours with ice or gel packs, and no decomposition problems have occurred.
According to the National Funeral Consumer Alliance (NFCA), a nonprofit advocacy group that protects consumers who are shopping for funeral goods and services, 40 percent of states currently have various forms of such a law in place. What is different about this bill is a temperature has been added. This does not forbid a home funeral but it does intimidate family members. The NHFA has acted on our behalf to lend a voice and attend meetings to fight this legislation, and any future legislation, towards protecting your rights regarding your own dead. If you wish to support them you can donate here. We at SevenPonds support their efforts and will keep you posted on any future legislative concerns regarding home funerals.