Charles Cowling

The alternative to government regulation of the funeral industry is not self-regulation (too flabby) but implacable consumer scrutiny. That’s the libertarian way of looking at it, it’s a case I like to argue, and I concede that it may be ineffectually idealistic.

If only consumers knew. If only they knew what goes on behind the scenes they’d be on to it. Yes? Appalling things go on in funeral directors’ mortuaries. So let’s tell em. If you want to be reminded of how some dead people are treated, have a look at this version of a removal.

If only consumers knew about the dark arts of deathtrade marketing they wouldn’t be fooled when a helpful care home staff member recommends a lovely local funeral director. Because they’d suspect that the staff member had been bought by a smarmy bastard.

What goes on is not fair on consumers and it’s not fair on the good guys in the funeral trade. Here’s an email I have just received from a funeral director I admire very much:

I’ve been really tormented recently about how various funeral directors are so corrupt, bribing nursing homes, care homes etc.  I was sent an email the other day about an anti-bribing law coming in next April, and this brought everything to the surface once again, as there is no way it would affect the funeral industry.

The area where I work has numerous nursing / care homes and many of the friends of a member of my staff work in them. They all use one funeral director who supplies them with large flat screen T.V.s etc. We have spoken with the carers and they all admit that they are told to use this certain funeral director but they are frightened to approach the persons in charge to ask them why this funeral director is contacted every time someone dies. It’s a case of ‘more than their job’s worth’.

I’m such an honest person that this kind of dishonesty always enrages me and my hands are tied. I’m aware that this world is a very corrupt one and it’s a case of ‘you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours’ but I refuse to be part of it and one day want to announce that we are proud of the fact that we have never had to lower ourselves to bribing care homes for our existence.

I don’t know nearly enough about the codes of practice that govern care homes and nursing homes. A code I believe to be widely observed is that of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which prescribes the following:

Be impartial

  • You must not abuse your privileged position for your own ends
  • You must ensure that your professional judgment is not influenced by any commercial considerations

I guess Trading Standards will have an opinion on this. Easy enough to establish a pattern when most dead residents go to the same funeral director. But what’s philanthropy and what’s a bung?

I’d be very interested to hear what you think about this. If you’re a funeral director and do not want to comment publicly, why not send me an email? Mark it confidential and, as many will testify, it’ll go no further. Find me here: charles@goodfuneralguide.co.uk

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Janice HuttongloriamundiRupert CallenderjamesPaul Hensby Recent comment authors

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Janice Hutton
Guest

I note your comments regarding FD’s websites, and their lack of sensitivity, and yes you are right generalisations are pretty unhelpful. Many have infomation overload and forget they are dealing with families who have just lost the most precious thing they know, a husband, wife, mother, father or child. Perhaps you would like to look at our website – http://www.gatewayfuneralservices.co.uk – This website has been designed with the bereaved family in mind, offering them as much help and guidance as we can in a sensitive and caring manner.

gloriamundi
Guest

Also, I might have added that there is nothing to stop the most emotionally illiterate person you could imagine setting up as a celebrant! – no doubt some have, so even more reason for FDs to pick their way through them and be well-informed. It’s instructive for me to look at the websites of James and Rupert – helpful, useful, sensitive. Most/many FD websites round ‘ere are a lot more basic, and often lead with photos of The Team in full rig with a fleet of big black limos in the background. To be flippant, they look more as though… Read more »

gloriamundi
Guest

Rupert, please bang away, NDC is a huge asset which I support unreservedly. I just want it to be huge, and much better known to all;I guess in our informationally cash-corrupted world, that means calling on the objects of Bill Hick’s justifiable loathing and giving them a lot of money – or just plugging away over a decade to two….

Rupert Callender
Guest

I agree James. Some of this may be the cultural distaste people feel towards those of us who deal with death and bodies for a living. There really are easier ways to make money,(“By the way, is there anyone here tonight in advertising and marketing?” Bill Hicks)
And Gloria, I hate to keep banging our drum, but The Natural Death Centre does provide the service you are asking about. We answer over 3000 phonecalls a year, as well as letters, emails, television and radio interviews, all free.

gloriamundi
Guest

“Celebster” is a Cowlingism, James, to cover “celebrant or minister,” because some of us think “celebrant” is a bit difficult, and “officiant” is rather cold and bureaucratic-sounding. We’ve also had “minibrant,” unsuitable for those over six foot, I guess…I personally never mind if someone describes me as a humanist minister. “Minister,” after all, has a wider connotation than purely “an officer of an established Christian church.” The reason “celebrant” is tricky seems to me because sometimes a family are very clear they want a celebration of a life, sometimes they are not, and some people feel that to assume that… Read more »

james
Guest

As a funeral director – even as one generally cynical of the trade – I find it hard to believe that this kind of self-serving malpractice really is widespread. Perhaps I am naive in this? But I feel that most of us undertakers are fair, well meaning and helpful….. tho’which among us hasn’t somehow bumped a person’s body by (awful) accident? I wonder how useful it is for a family to know the technical points of embalming (should it ever be essential to do this to someone). And – on occasion – is it not better to have the person’s… Read more »

Paul Hensby
Guest

The funeral trade provides a service that people don’t want to use, so it will always be difficult to get consumers to do much research before they purchase. However, organisations such as ours can change this by using all the public relations and media tricks we can to raise the issue in the public’s mind. The GFG is excellent. In it’s rather unjoined up way the Dying Matters Coalition is trying to raise awareness of end of life issues which must therefore cover the standards of the funeral industry. I think there is a lot of potential for the Farewell… Read more »

gloriamundi
Guest

Sorry Charles, I really don’t mean to dismiss the mighty GFG – far, very far, from it, it’s an excellent resource. Just to recognise its current likely readership. Most funerals I help with don’t involve families who are likely to have read the book.

There are, of course, free advice sheets and info packs. If only there was something/somewhere with presence and prestige that was automatically first choice for fair advice, no cash nexus involved.

gloriamundi
Guest

Well, this is what blogland is FOR… Fascinating, useful post and comments. many thanks. I feel Jonathan is right about ideals, and yet there’s a pragmatic bit of me that argues we have to work to improve a bit at a time, hence my banging on about FDs doing a proper job in checking and assessing celebsters before engaging them, so they can discuss with the family the sort of celebster they’d like. Now, I take Charles’ point entirely,that it’s families that should choose, independently of FDs, and Jonathan’s point that we shouldn’t base our arguments on assumptions that there… Read more »

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

P.S: I’d like to qualify what I said about ‘unprecedented’ freedom. The freedoms I’m talking about are, of course, freedoms from long-standing religious control as much as from that of the very recent development of the funeral professional.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Charles, I like your idea of implacable consumer scrutiny. I have to admit you have a point with your realistic appraisal of this vision as ineffectually idealistic, too. But effectual simply means capable of effect, and idealistic means subscribing to high values; why should we not accept the notion of high values being potent to bring about change? Isn’t that how we got to where we are now from the pioneering efforts of the likes of the NDC and the BHA to drag funerals into the light? It is, I grant, still a short step towards our ultimate goals; but… Read more »