Home Burial: Death of the American way of death

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Via the often fascinating Obit Magazine comes hope that the last (literally) of the great licensing/regulation hoodwinks may be coming to an end. Do-it-yourself funerals are clawing their way up from the graveyard of history. The movement is said to be fueled by the Economic Singularity and, according to consumer activist and Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love author Lisa Carlson, the same trends away from institutional control that have fueled natural birthing and the hospice movement:

Although numbers of home burials are not tracked, [Carlson] and others in the movement say they are fielding increasing numbers of inquiries about the diverse state laws, procedures, costs and psychological benefits of taking on tasks that, for decades, Americans have customarily contracted out to professionals.

In effect, these new home burials are pioneering a return to the past, notes the Rev. Lynn Acquafondata, a Pittsburgh, Pa., Unitarian minister who recently began "Final Journey Home" to assist families in conducting low-cost, in-home funeral services.

Acquafondata's rates begin at $75 for connecting families with resources, helping with paperwork and coaching on the process of laying out a family member. (Most estimates of the average funeral-home-directed service come in at between $7,000 and $8,000.)

But opposition is always stiff in the funeral business. In a phone call, Carlson gave me a rundown of the cozy patchwork of state regulations that prop up this whopping funeral cost. (According to Carlson, the average funeral cost in the U.K. is $1,650; in France, $2,200; in Australia, $2,100.) Six states—Michigan, Louisiana, Indiana, New York, Nebraska, and Connecticut still require that death certificates only be filed by licensed funeral directors.

Funeral directors everywhere weep over negative stereotypes of Italian-Americans.

The Federal Trade Commission also allows funeral directors to charge a non-declinable basic service fee of more than $1,000—which Carlson claims is the only industry given this prerogative by the FTC. So you're on the hook for a grand, even if you don't actually buy the funeral home's other services. "The average funeral home in the U.S. does two funerals a week," said Carlson.

Even in states with looser regulation, DIYers have to watch out for presumed regulation that doesn't actually exist. "I've run into all kinds of problems with hospitals refusing to release a body to family members with no cause," says Carlson. "Why in God's name would they release a living person to his family, but not a dead body?" (Most state health departments require a permit to move remains, and in many cases hospital staffers are authorized to issue a permit in case you die on a weekend, which you should try to avoid doing.)

Acquafondata, in a phone interview, notes that there is also a range of transit permitting, with some areas allowing movement of a body from a hospital to a final resting place, but not to a home. (About half of Americans die in hospitals.) Acquafondata quotes a Pennsylvania Vital Records official who told her that funeral homes have "gotten out of the habit" of bothering with permits but are always assumed to be authorized for final-resting-place transport.

Services like Acquafondata's and organizations like the Funeral Consumers Alliance won't pry open that death grip of licensing and overlapping regulations, but they can expose the bogus rationales for overpricing. Filling out a death certificate is "no more complicated than filling out a 1040," Carlson said. "It really burns my gizzard."

NEXT: Cato's Jerry Taylor, Corner Quisling!

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  1. Funeral home director are down there with Viagra spammer and assistant crack whore on my list of most despicable professions. I’ve told my family to dump my rotting corpse in the forest so the crows and foxes can take care of it before they let those scumbags touch me.

    They didn’t take it well. People are weird about death.

  2. I’m with you, Elasomorph. My family had to deal with the death of two family members in a six week period last year.

    After the second funeral, several of us did the paperwork to donate our bodies to medical schools when we die. No muss, no fuss.

  3. People are weird about death.

    No shit.

    Personally, though, I want to be embalmed and buried so that I can come back as a zombie. It’s a monetary sacrifice I’m willing to ask my family to make, for my future career as the undead.

  4. Times are tough. A person has gotta do what they gotta do you know?

    RT
    http://www.privacy-resources.us.tc

  5. That’s a pretty good pro-burial argument, Episarch. When I approached my brother about donating his body to a medical school, his first question was, “Does Miskatonic U. participate in this program?”

  6. I’ve been thinking about starting a Viking funeral business, where we’ll load the corpse into a Viking longboat, set it on fire, and push it out to sea.

  7. Why is it Cavanaugh warns us not to die on the weekend?

    Elasomorph you are describing the basics of a Zoroastrian funeral.

  8. I come from a funeral home family, and while many funeral homes are owned by a couple large corporations and are impersonal, not all are. Some still have directors that honestly care about helping the families through the greif process. If you can find a funeral home that performs more than 2 funerals a week, my family’s did up to 8 a day, the prices aren’t going to be as outrageous. Pre-arrangements help as well.

    I know that DIY is all the rage, but really handling the dead is something that you probably want someone else to do. Especially if it is summer. Trust me on this, I grew up with it and even then…..

    No, I am not a funeral director. I had absolutely no interest in the business and went to art school instead.

  9. Pro L here’s your marketing pitch: “a boat, some wood and a sunset, what more do you need?”

  10. Why are you people hating on me? I’ll be the last person to let you down!

  11. juris, see you and raise you: “Drown their sorrows away!”

  12. Go out in a blaze of glory!

  13. For a small fee, special Danish singers will sing dirges to your beloved.

  14. Oh for chrissakes, next thing you know, we’ll be brewing our own beer and growing our own weed. Industries which both cry out for taxation and regulation.

  15. If it’s this Danish band, count me in.

  16. If it’s this Danish band, count me in.

    Why is the lead singer from Alabama playing the bongos?

  17. Why is the lead singer from Alabama playing the bongos?

    If you’re gonna play in Denmark, you gotta have some bongos in the band.

  18. We’ll float your boat, fire your pyre.

    Special Fire Sail Prices!

    Habeas corpus in flagrante.

  19. If it’s this Danish band, count me in.

    See, I would have thought this Danish band would be more appropriate.

  20. next thing you know, we’ll be brewing our own beer

    Guess what Im drinking right now? 🙂

    No, more specifically.

  21. I dont care about burial or cremation, I just dont want to be in a mausoleum. For some reason, the thought of my body being above ground freaks me out. If I become a zombie, I better have to dig out of the ground.

  22. Speaking of deaths, Michigan and drinking… behold another bit of evil perpetrated containing all three.
    “Police said an officer deployed a Taser to control Brett Elder after he “became unruly and took a fighting stance” against three officers(emphasis added).”
    If these officers are such pants pissing limp dicks that they can’t handle this without fear, they do not deserve to be law enforcement. Despicable.
    I am not getting my link visible on the preview so here is the url by itself
    http://www.mlive.com/news/bay-city/index.ssf/2009/05/autopsy_alcohol_taser_shock_ki.html

  23. Testing the URL: option and it seems to work so click the name to go on to read the newest in dreadful.

  24. If it comes to the point where I know I have three months to live or something, maybe I can scare up some dough to buy a rocket and be blasted off into space in a random direction. It would be cool to be the known as the first human to die outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

    I imagine most of the difficulty and expense in spaceflight is the whole safely returning to Earth business. Any idiot with enough rocket fuel can send you up.

  25. Danes and death. Beyond Hamlet there is always this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oou3N5ylvdI

    Nice little documentary.

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  27. A favor you can do your loved ones is to become a member of a Memorial Society before you check out and make sure those in charge know about it.

    The cremation and other costs for my dad came in under $1,000.

  28. pauline | May 13, 2009, 11:40pm | #

    Thanks alot, SugarFree.

  29. What’s up with Reason’s ads? One would think an article about funeral homes + spam comment advertising a cougar dating service = most awesome ads ever.

  30. Why is it Cavanaugh warns us not to die on the weekend?

    Because then you don’t get to take a day off from work.

  31. Wow, no health care insurance, and now we can’t even afford funerals. Talk about making a virtue of necessity. This model of capitalism is finished. You can still worship it in your little libertarian cult, though.

  32. Yes, Maurice, the last twenty years of lack of government intervention has ruined our LBJ paradise. We must return to the garden, now that we’ve killed god, by electing ubermensch to lead us to our glorious bright future.

  33. How much does a good wood-chipper cost?

  34. I changed my mind about the Danish singers. Instead, I’ll hire second-tier opera singers to sing “O Fortuna” or some other Germanic sounding, epic song that the family chooses.

    Death sucks. I am, frankly, against it for myself and others.

  35. Taboo on NatGeo did an episode about overcrowded cemeteries in the Philippines. Families of the dead would essentially lease decent graves for five years, then have the bodies removed to mass graves later. Pall bearers were climbing over stacked tombs to get to burial sites.

  36. You won’t catch me dyin’. They’ll have to kill me before I die.

  37. BRING BACK TIM CAVANA– oh, wait.

  38. So, why can’t I be buried in my backyard…next to the hamster…Between the bird bath and the gazing ball?

  39. Pro Libertate, have you considered the carbon footprint of all those burning boats? Not to mention deforestation?

  40. I like the donation to science route. Cut those nasty little parasites out of the whole business. A dead body is just a piece of garbage and the only important thing is to dispose of it in a sanitary manner.

  41. I’m a little freaked out that a post on dead bodies draws the Cougarster spam bot.

  42. Was that Zep Holsopple?

    I want my family to steal my body if need be. They can bury it on a property that we own. And f— the state if they put up a fuss.

  43. I’ve left instructions for my family to drag me up to the Pet Sematary.

  44. I don’t want to die on a Tuesday. I want to die at 4:23 PM on a Sunday, skiing. Before I go I will say “one last run” because it’s always the last runs that you get hurt. Bears will be involved, and avalanches, maybe lightning. ’twill be sweet.

  45. The way things are going, I’ll probably die in a firefight with the Food Police or the Carbon Police.

  46. I imagine most of the difficulty and expense in spaceflight is the whole safely returning to Earth business. Any idiot with enough rocket fuel can send you up.

    Hey, tell me about it.

  47. “before they let those scumbags touch me”

    You mean the folks from the Department of Necrophilia?

    I sure seems that the Authoriah!s have an “Obsessive fascination with death and corpses.”

    I wonder why that is.

  48. I changed my mind about the Danish singers. Instead, I’ll hire second-tier opera singers to sing “O Fortuna” or some other Germanic sounding, epic song that the family chooses.

    Wagner, baby. There’s got to be something in The Ring Cycle that’ll fit. Of course, since I’m being cremated and made into a diamond, I really don’t care about the rest of it.

  49. ‘It would be cool to be the known as the first human to die outside of Earth’s atmosphere.’

    The crew of the Nostromo beat you to it.

  50. Okay, I couldn’t leave this one alone. Urkobold is launching a new Viking funeral business.

  51. next thing you know, we’ll be brewing our own beer

    Guess what Im drinking right now? 🙂

    No, more specifically.

    What quantity was brewed, and did you give or sell any of it? Also, a home address would be nice, plus hours of access.

  52. I got this idea from the highway department, but I think it may be a winner.

    “Go Out With a Bang!”

    Your body is lovingly wrapped in a sheet and placed on a bed of high explosives. After a few parting words (from a safe distance), the “pall plunger” takes action and scatters your remains across the park-like setting.

  53. Could be an issue if the deceased has any artificial hips or knees.

  54. I included Viking thrall women as an option in the Viking funeral. Historically, the thralls went from tent to tent “consoling” the bereaved.

  55. I’ll take a burial at sea. 🙂

  56. I would have thought that by now, someone, someone would have made at least one reference to the film Soylent Green.

  57. I did, indirectly. In my referenced post above, I called the new funerary company, “Sealant Green.”

  58. I’m a little freaked out that a post on dead bodies draws the Cougarster spam bot.

    Sympathetic magic.

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