From time to time the cry goes up, sometimes from the public, sometimes from funeral directors themselves, that it’s time to regulate the funeral industry.
Here at the GFG we’re against it. We defend the principle that the dead belong to their own, not to a bunch of professionalised specialists. We’re open minded about most things, but on this one our minds are made up.
The perils of professionalisation are best exemplified in the United States, where ‘morticians’ must attend college and learn the mysteries of embalming by practising on indigents. In addition to acquiring a sense of themselves quite out of proportion to the work they do, they also work hard together to stifle consumer rights and keep prices high. Every state has its own funeral board. The example of Oklahoma is typically instructive:
The mission of the Oklahoma Funeral Board is to act in the public interest, for the public protection and advancement of the profession within the police powers vested in the Board by the Legislature of the State of Oklahoma, entirely without appropriated funds. The Board shall serve an informational resource on funeral service to the general public and members of the funeral profession.
Lovely, you think, til you read the next sentence:
The Board consists of seven members appointed by the Governor. Five of the members must be actively engaged in funeral directing and embalming in this state for not less than seven consecutive years immediately prior to appointment. Two members of the Board are chosen from the general public, one of which shall be a person licensed and actively engaged in the health care field.
Yup, five out of the seven people guarding the flock are wolves.
Here in the UK the only similar example of disproportionate industry representation is the All Party Parliamentary Group for funerals and bereavement. This is essentially a group funded by the NAFD which lobbies parliament on behalf of the industry. We have made two requests to Lorely Burt MP, the chair, for consumer representation on the APPG. On the last occasion (30.11.2011) she replied: That is very remiss of me: will chase and come back asap. Thank you for reminding me. We’re still waiting. We note that, in tackling the Social Fund Funeral Payment mess, the APPG’s work is likely to benefit consumers.
In Minnesota an enterprising funeral director, Verlin Stoll, wants to roll out funerals costing around one third of what most Minnesotans pay an old school funeral home. Cut-price funerals is also a live issue just now in the UK, of course, where recessionary pressures, an oversupply of undertakers, a falling death rate and a growing disillusionment with the emotional and spiritual value of a funeral have sparked a ‘race to the bottom’ — not an open and raging price war, but a price war all the same. Trad funeral directors deplore this. They even write to some funeral homes who publish price comparisons warning them darkly in a form of legalese not to do so. Consumers and fair-priced funeral homes are the beneficiaries.
Back to the good Mr Stoll. He wants to open a second funeral home but, to do so, he must meet the state’s legal requirement to fit it out with an embalming facility at a cost of around $30,000. He has no intention of using it — he’s already got one. So the Institute for Justice is going to fight his case and seek to get the regulation overturned. The exec director of the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association thinks that this “tears away the regulatory structure we’ve put in place to protect consumers.”
Did he say that with a straight face?
On its website, the MFDA commits itself to:
♦ Advancing the value of funeral service consistent with the changing needs of society
♦ Advocacy on behalf of consumers and members
♦ Visionary leadership – trust and confidence in staff and volunteer leadership
♦ Promotion of integrity; honest and ethical behavior within the funeral industry
♦ Collaboration with others in the interest of consumers and members
♦ Recognize the importance of education as a vehicle to enhance both public service and public image
To those who campaign for regulation in the UK we say: better the mess we’re in.
Last year the Institute for Justice defended the right of Benedictine monks in Louisiana to sell caskets direct to the public. The YouTube clip below may amuse and infuriate you.