Protecting the consumer's right to choose alternatives for simplicity, dignity, and economy in funeral arrangements
Our 2014 newsletter is available online, and our annual comparative price survey of funeral services has been updated.
News and information
Your Funeral Consumer Rights in Idaho
The Funeral Ethics Organization offers the pamphlet Your Funeral Consumer Rights in Idaho, summarizing 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.
Why Doctors Die Differently
Ken Murrary, M.D. and retired clinical assistant professor of family medicine at USC, describes how careers in medicine teach doctors the limits of treatment and the need to plan for the end. In a follow-up piece, the author provided specifics, and compelling arguments for considering the questions and documenting your wishes with an Advance Directive. (2012)
Ask a Mortician
Terry Gross Fresh Air interview with mortician Caitlin Doughty, author of the memoir Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory, and founder of The Order of the Good Death, a group of funeral industry professionals, academics and artists. (Oct. 9, 2014)
In the truth is stranger than fiction dept., the Fort Worth funeral home that sold Lee Harvey Oswald's brother the coffin he was originally buried in took possession of it after he was exhumed in 1981... and sold it for $87,468 through a Los Angeles auction house. Robert Oswald, now 80, wants it destroyed. The funeral home says Oswald "relinquished his legal claim by making it a 'gift' to his dead brother..." and so finders, keepers?! (December, 2014)
Another way things can go wrong at a funeral
This story ran in the Miami Herald, but it's about a personal and family issue in Twin Falls, Idaho: Transgender woman dies suddenly, presented at funeral in open casket as a man. (November, 2014)
Funeral poses mimic life
It's not for every taste, but an idea that picked up steam in Puerto Rico in 2008 is catching on, with the enthusiasm of a New Orleans funeral director "thinking outside the box." Rite of the Sitting Dead: Funeral Poses Mimic Life (June, 2014)
Best and worst things to say to someone in grief
Among the resources at grief.com, suggestions for the best things to say to someone in grief (and what not to say).
From Boston's WBUR Natural, At-Home Funerals And Their Boomer Appeal:
"[I]n most states it's perfectly legal to care for your own dead. And, with new momentum to shatter longstanding taboos and stop tip-toeing around death — from "death with dignity" measures sweeping the country to projects promoting kitchen table "conversations" about our deepest end-of-life wishes — a re-energized DIY death movement is emerging." (Nov., 2013)
A funeral doesn't have to cost $10,000
FCA Executive Director Josh Slocum featured on LifeHacker: You Don't Have to Spend a Ton on a Funeral--Here's Why (May, 2013)
Don't put off "the talk" with your parents
From the New York Times "Your Money" section: The Talk You Didn't Have With Your Parents Could Cost You (May 24, 2013)
Discussing end-of-life care
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.
Regulating the trade in caskets
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).
Preneed funding facts by state
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.
Guide to cemetery purchases
The FCA's pamphlet, A Consumers Guide to Cemetery Purchases is available as a free (PDF) download.
Avoiding sticker shock at the end
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)
Some of what can go wrong when you prepay
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 discussed on Talk of the Nation
NPR's "Talk of the Nation" had a discussion with Max Alexander, author of the March Smithsonian Magazine piece (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.
Funeral business affected by recession too
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.
The satisfaction of a home funeral (Smithsonian Magazine)
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)
Mind-boggling ordinance in Georgia
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)
Environmentally-friendly burial practices
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)
Green burial in Camas, WA
The Fern Prairie Cemetery (north of Camas, Washington) began offering a "green burial" option, thanks to a customer asking if it was possible.
The Undertaking (and the lawsuit)
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."
Mr. Lynch had his own response: he sued us! That conclusion of the story from our point of view was in the spring 2010 newsletter: The Thomas Lynch Affair.
Funeral planning simplified
Green funerals on Fresh Air
Terry Gross talked 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.
Remembering the dear departed
Tom Chiarella's advice on How to Give a Eulogy, in the Sept. 2006 Esquire.
Baby boomers going out in style
It's My Funeral and I'll 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 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, nearly ten times the FCAI member price for minimal services from our cooperating mortuary.
Idaho casket makers featured
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.
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.
Why didn't they embalm the Pope?
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. (April, 2005)
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.
Autopsies increasingly rare
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