This blog doesn’t go looking for trouble, but it occasionally splashes into a little local difficulty. Can’t be too careful what you say, that’s the moral. Actually, the only entity that ever threatened to sue us was Promessa. You can’t be too careful of your friends.
We got into perhaps our hottest water when surveying the way regulation of the funeral trade works in the US, back in January 2009. It concerned a law in Michigan which requires a family to engage a funeral director to supervise the handling, disposition and disinterment of a dead person. We got our information from Thomas Lynch (yes, the Thomas Lynch). He told us: “In our state of Michigan the occupational group charged with collecting and registering these vital statistics and medical certification is licensees in mortuary science … an occupational class which it licenses and regulates.” He added: “In Milford we can’t burn leaves in the autumn, bury our trash in the back yard, drive an unlicensed vehicle or tend to the duties of our toilet in public. Nor can we hunt squirrels, coyotes, deer or dogs in town. “We the people” have made our laws, on these and a million other matters. Including the dead.”
While this was going on, Lynch was busy suing Josh Slocum of the FCA and Lisa Carlson of the FEO, for libel. Both had vigorously attacked his defence of this law. When Lynch’s suit was thrown out we asked him to comment. He did so, on this blog, and was immediately counter-sued for costs by Slocum and Carlson on the strength of what he had said. It was embarrassing to be caught in the crossfire of people we admire greatly. Rupert Callender still writhes at the memory.
And so it came to pass that the GFG became Exhibit A in Case No. 08-CV-13949 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN SOUTHERN DIVISION: “The primary bases for Defendants’ motions for attorneys fees are certain statements Lynch purportedly made in the weeks following the disposition of the case. In Charles Cowling’s blog entitled “The Good Funeral Guide,” Mr. Cowling made a post on August 17, 2009 captioned “That Tom Lynch libel case.” (See Def. FEO’s Mot. Br., at Ex. B.) In the comments following the post, Mr. Cowling stated that he received the following in an email from Thomas Lynch…”
You can read the email here.
It was a learning curve that left a nasty taste in the mouth. It probably converted all who followed it into militant non-regulators. Regulation is only attractive to people who are ignorant of unintended consequences.
Over in the US there’s an interesting case developing right now. Rabbi Daniel Wasserman is suing the Pennsylvania board of funeral directors because it insists on supervising his funerals. In the words of his lawsuit, Wasserman “is now being threatened with civil action and criminal prosecution … for conducting religious funerals in place of licensed funeral directors who, under color of state law, interfere in purely religious observances for no other justification than personal profit.”
Wasserman’s case is that, under Jewish law, the care of the dead cannot be delegated – and rabbis cannot become licensed funeral directors because embalming is anathema to Jews.
There are no public health issues, no dangers to wider society. The Department of Health agrees that Jewish custom abides by all health laws.
Regulation and licensing are clearly desirable in areas where public safety is concerned. It’s why you have to employ a Gas Safe registered person to work on your boiler so that you do not blow up your neighbours.
Anyone in the UK who favours licensing funeral directors must answer this question: Should the law compel you to engage a contractor to do what you can perfectly safely and competently do for yourself?
It really is that simple.