News updates for the week of December 18, 2012

Prejudiced Against Embalming?

For many years I have expressed a belief to my mortuary personnel, others and in articles written for our international audience: “Embalming is our best-known method of presenting a deceased person in state well through the memorial event.”

When colleges with funeral service programs educate students that embalming is performed to protect public health — and are tested accordingly — graduates believe it to be true. Unfortunately, rules often are influenced by self-serving practitioners of death care and made into law by bureaucratic legislators.

Over the years, funeral directors have told families (even without specific laws) that embalming must be authorized to protect the public health in viewing circumstances.

I have also been critical regarding laws in certain states that are insensible and indefensible that prohibit the serving or consumption of food within a funeral establishment such as The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Rule No. 39: IN ORDER TO PRESERVE THE PUBLIC HEALTH, NO licensed funeral director, embalmer, assistant, or other employee or attendant of a funeral directing establishment shall provide, handle, or serve any food or liquid refreshments in connection with any burial or funeral. THIS NOTICE MUST BE CONSPICUOUSLY DISPLAYED.

Other northeast states such as Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have similar laws, yet the majority of states have no such rules without any issues. It is easy to conclude that concerns and laws with no basis of truth can be promulgated when self-serving matters arise with and among colleagues. Given that most social and business gatherings of people often include refreshments of sorts on a regular basis, why would funeral directors resist this desire because “we are funeral directors, not food merchants”? But many are outspoken that they do not want the mess or bother on their premises! Staff lunches and other foods are typically consumed and often in back-room settings — are we being exposed to health risks?

The greatest service we can provide to those who grieve is honest, comforting care and support. This means being truthful about basics and options of available choices. We should never imply the substance of a law for our personal preference or convenience, especially when it is not truthful.

When funeral directors deny the families and friends they serve the opportunity to view their decedent in state, unless embalming is authorized — proclaiming “To Protect The Public Health” is not truthful!

When the basis of truth is compromised by colleges professing to educate honestly, their methods are worthy of exposure and correction. This example should draw attention to unfair use of rules and laws. The offering and provision of food with a funeral home is common in most states. If certain funeral providers decline, that’s their prerogative. But in no way should they interfere with competitors eager and willing to provide these desired and appropriate services!

When we get caught up in ideas and beliefs regarding decedent care, we should remember that people around the world don’t die differently than in America. Refrigeration is often the primary method of holding and controlling natural decomposition. The primary problem with this subject is that colleges teach death care apparently without information regarding refrigeration techniques to stabilize the body and methods to control odor and effectively apply cosmetics for favorable viewing without embalming. We recognize that hospitals, medical examiner/coroner facilities typically have refrigeration to hold bodies in their custody.

I understand the position of a funeral director desirous of embalming whenever and as soon as possible. To place a decedent in state in the best possible form and condition is a competitive issue. Attendees will compare the “general appearance” accomplished by one firm versus another. And, it makes sense. Therefore, each provider should have access to refrigeration, embalming and alternate methods of preparation.


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