Many thanks to Richard Chin of the St. Paul Pioneer Press for his wonderful article of Oct. 14, “Keeping them close, one last time." We received positive feedback for the information about our family washing and dressing Diane after she died and accompanying her body to the crematorium.
A follow-up article by Richard Chin the next day focused on changes in Minnesota state laws, effective in August 2007, that make some of the experiences recounted in the “Keeping close” article illegal. These laws concern the preparation, viewing, and transportation of a body. All of them restrict the participation of family and friends in after-death care.
One change, for example, limits home viewing to immediate family members. If Diane had died today, only her husband Bill, children, and siblings would be able to view her unless she had written the names of others who could participate. Bill and Diane’s grandchildren, daughters-in-law, sisters and brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, and dear friends would all be excluded without this document.
According to the Pioneer Press article, the force behind this legislation is the mortuary industry. As Jessica Mitford described in shocking detail decades ago in The American Way of Death, death is big business, and mortuary professionals have lots of influence.
As more and more people are taking care of their dying family members at home, it is interesting to see the legislature erecting roadblocks to after-death care of loved ones. Those of us who view death as a natural family event and not a medical emergency and who believe that families should be able to chose the extent to which morticians are involved will need to challenge this new unnecessary and intrusive legislation.