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The Abandoned and Historic Cemeteries Act Passes in Florida
Bill HB 49 in Florida was unanimously approved at the beginning of May. The bill, sponsored by House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell, requires the Historic Cemeteries Program to provide funding for the research, restoration, and maintenance of abandoned African American cemeteries.
Minnesota Places a Two Year Moratorium on Green Burials
The state has passed a law effective July 1, 2023 that bans new cemeteries from offering green burials for the next two years. The decision was made in response to concerns from local residents regarding 20-acres of land in Blackhoof Township that was purchased with the intention of establishing a green burial ground. Many of the concerns voiced, such as worries about smell, animals digging up bodies, or groundwater being affected, are unfounded.
This decision is particularly concerning as it may impact people’s right to a good death and religious freedom, particularly for people of Muslim and Jewish faiths who have always practiced a form of “green” burial. “It seems to be a careless decision here by the state,” said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
New Jersey Bill to Create Separate Licensing Requirements for Funeral Directors and Embalmers to Accommodate Consumer Demand and Those Who Don’t Want to Practice Embalming
On June 27, 2023 New Jersey bill 4043 was introduced, which would create separate licensing requirements for funeral directors and embalmers. As is the case in many U.S. states and under New Jersey’s Mortuary Science Act established seventy years ago, funeral professionals must hold a Mortuary Science degree and obtain a dual license for both funeral directing and embalming to practice funeral arranging. If this law passes students in Mortuary Science programs would be able to forego the more intensive embalming training, while focusing instead on “front of the house” aspects of running a funeral home such as working with families to arrange and direct funeral services.
As noted in the text of the bill and this recent NY Times article, demand for embalming services is down due to a number of reasons, including a higher percentage of people choosing cremation, the rising interest in greener funeral options, and the societal shift prompted by the Death Positive Movement in which people are “…questioning the way that things have always been done.”
The bill not only anticipates consumer demand and the future of the funeral industry, but would accommodate a growing number of people who are interested in entering the funeral industry, but are reluctant to practice embalming for personal, cultural, or environmental issues. While embalming remains a valuable option in many cases, we hope to see more states and Mortuary Science programs consider passing similar bills.
Nevada Becomes the Seventh U.S. State to Legalize Composting
Nevada House Bill 52 was signed into law by Governor Lombardo, making it the seventh state in the U.S. to legalize the eco-friendly practice, as consumer demand for greener, more sustainable deathcare options continues to gain momentum. Read more about this historic decision.
Dignity in Death Petition to Amend the U.K.’s Gender Recognition Act
A petition asks that the UK government allow trans people’s birth certificates to be amended after they die. The petition opened on February 15, 2023 and will run for six months. The petition requests that the families of dead trans people who were not able to acquire a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) in life be allowed to apply for posthumous GRCs and reissued death certificates. The petition also requests that terminally ill trans people be allowed to acquire a GRC. In both instances, the GRC would be issued through statutory declaration, bypassing the bureaucratic headache that it takes to acquire a GRC the normal route in the UK.
U.K. residents can read and sign the petition through August 2023.
California Cemetery and Funeral Bureau vs. Death Doulas
A court case in California could force death doulas who provide information and non-medical support to dying people and their families, to become licensed funeral directors.
Full Circle of Living and Dying, a California based nonprofit that provides end-of-life and after death care education is at the center of a legal battle with California’s Funeral and Cemetery Bureau that could impact the public’s right to death education and information and how death doulas work in the future. For details on this case read our article Defending Your Right to a Good Death, and listen to an interview with Akhila Murphy from Full Circle and Ben Field, attorney at the Institute For Justice.
In August 2023 we received the following update on this case from Full Circle and the Institute for Justice:
The judge has ruled that it is unconstitutional for the government to restrict educational speech and individual end-of-life planning, and also that it’s also unconstitutional for California to require Full Circle to become a licensed funeral establishment. A trail date has been set for early 2024, to decide the remaining issue of requiring doulas to become licensed funeral directors in order to assist in home funerals.
Bill to Legalize Open Air Funeral Pyres Introduced in Vermont
Vermont Rep. Matt Birong introduced Bill H.216 which aims to make open air funeral pyres legal in the state. The bill was able to utilize the framework from previously approved bill H.244 which legalized composting there in 2022. The bill includes an equity and inclusion piece, as Birong explains “If we are being genuine about being more open and accepting to broader… races, creeds, religions, funerary tradition should be a serious part of this conversation.”
Removing Racist and Discriminatory Language From Mortuary College Dress Codes and Handbooks
A recent effort led by funeral director and educator Joél Maldonado, to have racist and discriminatory language and dress codes removed from Mortuary Science school materials was the subject of a recent episode of Order of the Good Death’s podcast, Death in the Afternoon. Dress codes and schools that ban “cornrows, ponytails, dreadlocks, braids” and reference to other natural and protective hairstyles adorned by BIPOC students and professionals as being unprofessional is discriminatory and shows a disregard for the religious, spiritual and cultural nuances. This messaging also communicates to communities of color that representation of and care for BIPOC decedents is also not valued.
Maldonado gave The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and American Board of Funeral Service Education a petition she created, and the accompanying comments.
Efforts to Legalize Aquamation in Texas Underway
The Order has partnered with Live Free Die Free to help expand sustainable death care choices in Texas. As part of the 88th legislative session (spring 2023), Representative Ann Johnson of Harris County filed H.B. 2895 on February 27 to amend the definition of cremation under Texas state law and include water cremation, also known as alkaline hydrolysis, as a choice for all Texans. This is the third legislative motion to expand Texans’ rights to choose their preferred method of disposal of remains.
Sign the petition to voice your support.
The Fight to Regulate the Body Broker Industry Continues
While donating one’s body to science is considered a noble act, it doesn’t come without risks. Currently, there is no federal oversight which can lead to confusion and misunderstandings about how a body will be used, and leaves grieving individuals and their families vulnerable to being exploited by body brokers.
With the hope of protecting future donors the Consensual Donation and Research Integrity Act was introduced at the end of 2022. The bill would create standards for registration, inspection, chain of custody, labeling and packing, and proper disposition to ensure donated bodies are not unknowingly contributed to a for-profit industry in which body brokers take advantage of donors and their families.
Watch the recent CBS News documentary on Body Brokers to learn more about this issue.
Updating the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule
At the beginning of 2023 The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was considering updating and strengthening The Funeral Rule which requires funeral homes to provide consumers with prices if requested in-person or by phone, to include other forms of communication like email, and websites. Since the Funeral Rule was created in the 1980s it doesn’t include modern forms of communication like emails and texting, or websites. Consumers can potentially save thousands of dollars on funeral costs by shopping around and comparing prices, however the FTC’s 2020 review found that over 60% of funeral homes had little to no pricing information on their websites. This update would not only be beneficial to everyone, but it has the potential to improve access for disabled, low income, and non-English speaking communities, as well as families planning funerals out-of-state.
The Order has met with FTC representatives twice this year to provide input on the proposed changes. We have also been invited to Washington DC to participate on the FTC’s Funeral Rule Workshop on September 7, 2023. The deadline for submitting a comment has been extended to October 2023.
Illinois’ Human Remains Protection Act
In August Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Human Remains Protection Act into law, giving tribal nations — not state agencies, universities or museums — final say over how and when the remains of their ancestors are returned to them.
This historic law law makes it the state’s responsibility support the return ancestral remains and funerary objects, establishes a state Repatriation and Reinterment Fund to help with the costs of reburial, tribal consultation and the repair of any damage to burial sites, and increases criminal penalties for the looting and desecration of gravesites, while adding a ban on profiteering from human remains and funerary objects through their sale, purchase or exhibition.