Protecting the consumer's right to choose alternatives for simplicity, dignity, and economy in funeral arrangements
Spring 2013 FCAI News
Our 2013 newsletter is available, with notice of our 2013 annual meeting, scheduled for 1:00pm Saturday, May 4, at the Library! at Cole and Ustick in Boise.
Our annual price survey of Idaho funeral service providers has been updated. (April, 2013)
We now have a cooperating mortuary in Twin Falls!
From the Funeral Ethics Organization
The pamphlet, Your Funeral Consumer Rights in Idaho summarizes your rights in making funeral arrangements, choices for disposition of remains, veteran and social security benefits, and the pros and cons of prepaying for a funeral. The PDF is available via that link at no charge.
The Funeral Ethics Organization promotes ethical dealings in all death-related transactions by working for better understanding of ethical issues among funeral, cemetery, memorial industry practitioners, law enforcement, organ procurement organizations, and state agencies, as well as better understanding between these and the general public.
News and information of interest
Health care reporter Charles Ornstein found his thinking about end-of-life care challenged by his mother's death. (NPR, March 1, 2013)
The FCA's executive director Josh Slocum spoke in the 60 Minutes segment describing problems from a lack of regulation of cemeteries in this country that aired on May 20, 2012: Final resting place: Cemeteries lack oversight. More information and related links are on the FCA "Daily Dirge" blog.
How 38 Monks Took on the Funeral Cartel and Won, by Conor Friedersdorf, in The Atlantic. "Their victory in federal court means they can sell caskets without a license—and has implications for entrepreneurs all over the United States."
George Will offered further opinion (Washington Post, Nov. 14, 2012) about the history of restraint of trade, and the "dishing out [of] special economic benefits" as the 10th Circuit appeals court put it in 2004 (on the way to supporting state and local governments' prerogative).
The Funeral Ethics Organization has compiled preneed funding facts specific to all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We've added their pamphlet, Pre-paying for Your Funeral in Idaho, to our publications list.
The FCA's pamphlet, A Consumers Guide to Cemetery Purchases is available as a free (PDF) download.
Who says the folks in the funeral industry don't have a sense of humor? MortuaryMall.com announces their "Black Friday" sales event. The offerings include "industry-themed gifts & novelties," including a t-shirt saying "Your Undertaker Is The Last Person Who Will Ever Let You Down" for a $1 sale price.
Their day-after-Thanksgiving sale will start at a minute past midnight, and you can shop online rather than lining up outside their store.
From the AARP: Avoid Long-term Care Sticker Shock. This short item on their website includes a link to a very useful Idaho Guide to Long-term Care services and insurance prices downloadable as a PDF, or with instructions to have a free copy mailed to you. (July 12, 2010)
An April 30, 2010 Reader's View in the Idaho Statesman from Sally Jeffcoat, President and CEO of Saint Alphonsus Health System (comprising Saint Al's in Boise, Mercy Medical Center in Nampa, Holy Rosary Medical Center in Ontario, Oregon, and St. Elizabeth Health Services in Baker City, Oregon) responds to concerns that the Catholic "Directive 58" might override patients' expressed wishes for end-of-life care.
The FCA and its affiliates advise against pre-paying for funeral services in most instances. This Feb. 16, 2010 article from the Honolulu Advertiser illustrates a pitfall.
While officials "assure all customers that their contracts... will be fully honored," some of the trust fund investments have lost 85% or more of their value, and auditors said many of the records have been lost or destroyed. The audit of RightStar's books filed in Circuit Court states that "trust funds maintained for the benefit of some 50,000 customers are $22,621,567 below legal requirements."
Home funerals (and burial) in Central Pennsylvania are rewriting rules at life's end. (Nov. 23, 2009)
Fort Collins has set aside a 1 acre section of a city cemetery for people to be buried without a vault or embalming. Simple. John Young provides the commentary on "old-fashioned" burial becoming new again. (Oct. 14, 2009)
Kyra Phillips interviewed FCA Executive Director Josh Slocum on CNN, on the subject of saving money on funerals. The video was posted on August 5, 2009.
NPR's "Talk of the Nation" had a discussion with Max Alexander, author of the March Smithsonian Magazine piece (see link below); Lisa Carlson, author of Caring for the Dead; and Glenn Taylor, owner of Glenn Funeral Home and Crematory in Kentucky, on April 30, 2009: In Home Funerals, Families Care For Their Dead.
Oregon's Senate Bill 796 proposes a
revision to the 1st Amendment: requiring anyone who "offers, for
payment, consultations or workshops to individuals or groups regarding
funeral or final disposition services" to be licensed by the state.
The Funeral Consumers Alliance responds...
(April 20, 2009)
Dana Milbank reports in the Washington Post that the funeral business is
not immune from recession:
Funeral Business Feeling Six Feet Under. The accompanying video from
the National Funeral Directors Association annual meeting is
not to be missed.
(April 1, 2009)
And in the same vein... we also recommend the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, Six People, No Music. Timeless.
When his father and father-in-law died within days of each other, author
Max Alexander learned a great deal about the funeral industry:
The Surprising Satisfactions of a Home Funeral.
(March, 2009 Smithsonian Magazine)
Georgia County Bans Green Burial - FCA Responds: "(C)ounty Commissioners caved to unfounded fears and wrote the most mind-bogglingly bad, evidence-free cemetery ordinance we've ever seen." Among other things, the new law requires "leak-proof" caskets and vaults, a category of products that doesn't exist. (The Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule and Georgia state law both bar funeral directors from misrepresenting the "preservative" qualities of burial boxes.) (Jan. 4, 2009)
This ABC News story, Green Graveyards Offer Burial Without a Trace describes some of the possibilities for environmentally-friendly burial practices. Author Mark Harris, whose book Grave Matters is now available in paperback, is featured. (Dec. 7, 2008)
The Fern Prairie Cemetery (north of Camas, Washington) began offering a "green burial" option, thanks to a customer asking if it was possible.
Dr. Joyce Brothers responded to a question about "do it yourself" funerals (2nd of 2 letters): "While many people are satisfied with the funeral industry's emphasis on expensive caskets and elaborate rituals, the simple way of burying the dead may appeal to those who are more spiritual and interested in preserving the circle of life connection between the natural world and our human one...." (Sept. 12, 2008)
The market for "green" burial products is growing, as described by this AP story on CNN: Recycling in its purest form -- among the worms. Kayak-shaped coffin made of recycled newspapers? Fair-trade bamboo with an unbleached cotton shroud? Use your imagination for how to go out in style.
"The market is potentially huge. U.S. funeral homes generate an estimated $11 billion in revenue annually and that figure is sure to grow as baby boomers age."
FRONTLINE's The Undertaking aired on Idaho Public TV on October 30, 2007 and can now be viewed via that link to the PBS website. The film "enters the world of Thomas Lynch, a writer, poet and undertaker whose family for three generations has cared for both the living and the dead in a small Michigan town. Through the intimate stories of families coming to terms with grief, mortality, and a funeral's rituals, it illuminates the heartbreak and beauty in the journey taken between the living and the dead when a loved one dies."
Kimberly Palmer interviewed FCA director Josh Slocum and Steven Kopp, an associate professor of business at the University of Arkansas for the US News & World Report "Alpha Consumer" column, How to Plan an Affordable Funeral (Oct. 17, 2007)
The Physician Orders for Scope and Treatment (POST) form became available July 1, and Idaho law now provides for a database maintained by the secretary of state that physicians and hospitals can check. Patients may wear a wristband to let emergency workers and doctors know that the person has stated their wishes for (or against) treatment. More information in The Idaho Statesman's July 1, 2007 feature, and from Dept. of Health and Welfare; see our links page for more detail.
Coming to a cemetery near you: entertainment?! Patricia Leigh Brown's feature in the May 25, 2007 New York Times: Cemeteries Seek Breathing Clientele.
As reported in The NY Times, with cremation increasing, "ash-scattering businesses have blossomed" but the commercial scattering of cremains has more limitations than private scattering. You might not get the fireworks, but you can use public lands. (March 30, 2007)
Slate's "Explainer" on Who Owns a Donated Organ? (Dec. 26, 2006)
End of life:
Caring for your dying loved one
On the MayoClinic.com site, describing the final symptoms and how you can ease anxiety for yourself, and your loved one. (Feb. 2, 2007)
Terry Gross talks to author Mark Harris on Fresh Air, Jan. 22, 2007, on the topic of Environmentally Friendly Funerals. Harris is a former environmental columnist with the LA Times Syndicate, and author of the book Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial.
Patricia Leigh Brown, in The New York Times (Jan. 18, 2007), reports that the "nationís first art gallery dedicated to cremation urns and other 'personal memorial art' opens Jan. 27 in Graton, just outside Sebastopol in Sonoma County, about 65 miles northwest of San Francisco."
"The gallery, christened Art Honors Life, will showcase the work of some 40 artists and craftspeople who are collectively pioneering a new aesthetic of death—creating sophisticated vessels of burnished terracotta, redwood burl, black glass, even biodegradable paper mixed with ashes from ancient oaks that, in terms of sheer artistic ambitiousness, hark back to the ancient Egyptians...."
Life after life in the Oct. 22, 2006 Twin Falls Times-News describes some of the possibilities for what happens to your body when you die. Reader comments included helpful additional information, and a number from people who apparently would rather not know. "Needless information," "grossest," and "horrible" were some of the reactions.
The Last Word on the Last Breath describes some of the medical and legal constraints on end-of-life decision making. –Oct. 10, 2006 New York Times
Does the casket industry have a lively future, or is it moribund as more people chose cremation? Lisa Takeuchi Cullen examines the business in an Aug. '06 piece on the Time magazine website.
Pay Before You Go, or Just Plan? by Shelly Bucksot includes a good set of tips for preplanning.
Tom Chiarella's advice on How to Give a Eulogy, in the Sept. 2006 Esquire.
Utah's Daily Herald offers their opinion on that state's new law requiring that only commercial funeral service directors may sign death certificates:
"Death has been around for a lot longer than licensed funeral directors, and one ought to be able to send off a loved one without embalming or expensive caskets.... The Legislature needs to revisit the issue and either repeal the law entirely or fine-tune it to account for reasonable exceptions." –July 22, 2006
It's My Funeral and Iíll Serve Ice Cream if I Want To, by John Leland, in the July 20, 2006 New York Times.
"As members of the baby boom generation plan final services for their parents or themselves, they bring new consumer expectations and fewer attachments to churches, traditions or organ music—forcing funeral directors to be more like party planners, and inviting some party planners to test the farewell waters."
Interesting quick statistic from the article: it says 2 million Americans each year are "buried" by funeral homes (I expect this includes those cremated), "at a price tag of $13 billion." That's $6,500, on average, right at ten times the FCAI member price for minimal services from our cooperating mortuary.
Bannock Pride casket-makers Marcia Racehorse-Robles and Dave Robles were featured in the summer 2006 Idaho Arts Quarterly from Boise Weekly. The story describes the efforts to reclaim traditional funeral practices, as well as their artistry.
Some things don't change very quickly: The CBC Marketplace tips for planning a funeral from 2002 still work just fine in March, 2006. Number one is "plan ahead and ask questions," and the last one is contact your local memorial society. We're here to help! (The high-priced sales pitches from funeral homes haven't changed in the 4 years since this was broadcast, either.)
Joe Kolman's Idaho Statesman article, "You can make your last act on Earth a green one," describes the movement to earth-friendly funeral practices, and gives a pointer to the national FCA page on eco-friendly death and funeral choices. There's also a link to the longer USA Today article that ran two years ago, "Moving on from life, naturally." –Feb. 4, 2006
Lynn Isenberg started by writing a novel she cast as an "entrepreneurial comedy," then realized it contained a plausible business idea. Now she's Putting the Fun in Funerals, "capitaliz(ing) on two of the fastest-growing trends in the $11 billion funeral industry: personalization and pre-planning." –Nov. 17, 2005
Isn't there a greener way to go?
This Madison, Wis. Isthmus article responds to the "growing concern about the sustainability of current cemetery practices and growing interest in a return to the simpler burial practices of the 19th century, the unadorned pine box and a simple rock for a headstone."
One estimate is that "827,060 gallons of embalming fluid are buried in the U.S. each year," along with "many tons of reinforced concrete, steel, copper, bronze and hardwoods.
The Norman (Okla.) Transcript's Savvy Senior feature offers "Everything to know about cremation" –Oct. 25, 2005
Freeze-drying touted as new green burial
The Scotsman reports on "promession", a technique developed in Sweden to address the shortage of burial space and to reduce mercury pollution created by dental fillings during cremation. –Oct. 14, 2005
"Green" Burials Offer Unique, Less Costly Goodbyes
National Geographic article describes processes with either cremation or full-body burial with no embalming fluids and a biodegradable wooden box or shroud. "Green burial isn't about doing extra things," said Joshua Slocum, executive director of the national FCA. "It's about what not to do." –Sept. 9, 2005
A Movement to Bring Grief Back Home Washington Post story
"...Like the hospice movement, which since the 1960s has helped the terminally ill die peacefully at home, the home funeral movement aims to protect what it calls individuals' 'right' to care for their own at death. At its most abstract, promoters say, it hopes to dispel the fear and denial that accompany an institutionalized approach to death, and return life's final act to its historical position as a natural, profound and private event...." –June 5, 2005
Slate's "Explainer" asks Why Didn't They Embalm the Pope? It doesn't provide an answer, but it does describe the basics of the process.
You may be surprised to learn that the U.S. and Canada are the only countries in the world that routinely practice embalming these days. It's just a custom, and not required by law.
The New York Times Magazine article, Buried Answers by David Dobbs discusses the decrease in the rate of performing autopsies and the arguments for increasing the practice. Hospitals used to autopsy almost half of the people who died in their care. Now the rate is below 5%.
"(N)umerous studies over the last century have found that in 25 to 40 percent of cases in which an autopsy is done, it reveals an undiagnosed cause of death. Because of those errors, in 7 to 12 percent of the cases, treatment that might have been lifesaving wasn't prescribed. (In the other cases, the disease might have advanced beyond treatment or there might have been multiple causes of death.)" –Apr. 24, 2005