Canadian Legislation, February 2016
Virginia SB595, March 2016
The State of Virginia recently passed a bill that requires institutions to refrigerate a body under 40 degrees F after 48 hours, or turn it over to a professional at the families' expense. The original bill compelled private citizens to meet this requirement, sending shock waves through the home funeral community. After a phone call, letter and email writing campaign, petition signing (set up by Springfield VA resident and NHFA member Denise Klasen) that topped 3,934, and various media articles including an Ask a Mortician video by Caitlin Doughty, the subcommittee forwarded the bill amended to leave out families. Virginia Tech professor Philip Olson was instrumental in organizing opposition to the bill, and offers this home funeral story in testament to the need for families' rights to be protected:
My name is Ben Coleman, I live in Bedford County, Virginia.
I am writing to protect our freedoms in the Home Funeral and Home Burial arena. Last year, I with friends and the family of a good friend, Justin Mays, exercised our rights to hold a private, home funeral. Justin died in June 2015 from a rare heart condition at 41 years old. Needless to say, no one was prepared for such a loss. As I sat with Justin on his final day, he expressed to me that his greatest fear was having his body handled and "preserved" by the typical funeral service we have grown to expect. A service that is expensive and impersonal, leaving families confused, broke, and full of grief. Between the potential expense that Justin's family needed to avoid, and his last wishes to be handled only by family, buried by hand on private property, he chose a Home Burial. He was not aware of this right to Home Burial until I told him of our freedoms here in Virginia. I told him that the laws varied by state and that he is lucky to be a Virginian!
Justin died that night. We did our research, followed the rules and created the most meaningful funeral experience this town has ever witnessed in the last 100 years. His body was lovingly cleaned and prepared for burial by Justin's sister and brother in law, and myself. We built a beautiful, wild cherry wood casket by hand in one day, we hand dug the grave and lowered him in with hemp rope like the old days, surrounded by family and friends. The tears flowed, not just from our loss, but of our unforgettable experience. The grieving was real and the circle of love and trust had never been broken. And the family saved greatly during an already stressed financial situation.
This right to home burial should never be infringed upon. It is too personal a right to be tampered with. Why should Virginia change its laws regarding home burial? Who has the nerve to take rights like these from the citizens of Virginia? I am appalled to hear that this proposed stripping of a very personal right was suggested by a funeral home director. How dare this person or group of people take our rights away, only to profit from the outcome! I strongly suggest leaving laws as they are. We have rights! If we wish to, or even have to for financial reasons, bury our own dead, that is a personal choice, a God-given right and DUTY. How we "chill" our loved ones is our business. Stop the greed, stop the grave-robbing!
Please do not tamper with this right to Home Burial by creating laws to force families into a funeral service. This is an unethical use of Law.
Please allow Virginians to make their own decisions. Please do not allow funeral directors to create law that brings pain to family and profit to an already overpaid sector, the Undertaker. Together we should "bury" this proposal and defend our rights to Home Funerals.
Thank you for reading my input,
Bedford County, Virginia