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May 30, 2012 4:48 AM   Subscribe

Louisiana monks go to court to sell their caskets. “The number one thing you should do as a public interest litigator is to get monks as your clients in every single case.”
posted by Ice Cream Socialist (90 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
There are pictures of the caskets on the abbey's website. I think they're quite nice.
posted by jquinby at 4:59 AM on May 30, 2012


Could they perhaps wholesale them to a licensed funeral establishment and sell them that way?
posted by Kikujiro's Summer at 5:06 AM on May 30, 2012


I my state you can buy your casket anywhere. You don't have to go through a funeral home.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:08 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is such an obviously lobbied bit of legislation. It's astonishing.
posted by jaduncan at 5:09 AM on May 30, 2012


Yeah, how much government protection do you need to buy a box? It's to hold something dead. Even if it's rickety and terrible, what the hell difference does it make?
posted by Malor at 5:17 AM on May 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


Well, I can envision problems if your defective casket, say, brought its contents back to life several days after burial. I'm sure that's something they cover in the funeral director licensing process.
posted by indubitable at 5:20 AM on May 30, 2012 [22 favorites]


I wonder if they open easily from the inside, for when the resurrection of the body takes place
posted by thelonius at 5:21 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can definitely imagine that in an area prone to flooding, you'd like some regulation on how corpses are sealed away from the water table.
posted by DU at 5:22 AM on May 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I suspect this has everything to do with the monks direct-selling to consumers, and cutting-out the funeral homes (and their very profitable cut).
posted by Thorzdad at 5:23 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is such an obviously lobbied bit of legislation. It's astonishing.

What's wrong with pro-growth government regulation? Why should red-blooded, secular American companies be forced to compete head-to-head with free monk labor. American businesses pay onerous taxes, monks get the kind of tax treatment that makes the 1 % jealous. I mean what's going on here? On whose side is the government of Louisiana? Small Business or Big Monk?

Don't let the robes and stuff fool you. This isn't any honest labor union. These are job-busting scabs. Down with the monks and their caskets.
posted by three blind mice at 5:24 AM on May 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


DU: "I can definitely imagine that in an area prone to flooding, you'd like some regulation on how corpses are sealed away from the water table."

Which has nothing to do with forcing all casket sales to be intermediated by a funeral home. If the state thinks that caskets need to be built to a certain standard, they are free to pass a law requiring all people be buried in approved caskets. However, a quote from the fine article indicates that Louisiana has no law on the books requiring a deceased person be interred in a casket.
posted by wierdo at 5:34 AM on May 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


My first (ok, kneejerk) reaction to the article is to root for the monks against the entrenched, controlling gatekeepers. I look forward to ColdChef's take on the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, but my suspicions after reading one article are that this is a pure economic muscle move on the Board's part that will turn out to be barely justifiable on "we're just protecting consumers" grounds. Or, what wierdo just said.

This may be one of those cases, like Kelo, where I find myself on the same side as the Koch Brothers-funded pro-Citizens United Institute for Justice.
posted by mediareport at 5:38 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: Small Business or Big Monk?
posted by jquinby at 5:43 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


If the state thinks that caskets need to be built to a certain standard, they are free to pass a law requiring all people be buried in approved caskets.

Yes, although that's not always how these laws work. They often work by requiring the work to be done by a professional (e.g. electricians, plumbers, etc). Granted, those are ALSO protectionism but the original reason, and continuing effect, was for some safety thing.
posted by DU at 5:46 AM on May 30, 2012


if your defective casket, say, brought its contents back to life several days after burial

Dude, you'd make a killing in the market with those...
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:48 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why isn't the correct answer here to go to the public and ask the legislature to fix the law?
posted by empath at 5:50 AM on May 30, 2012


I can definitely imagine that in an area prone to flooding, you'd like some regulation on how corpses are sealed away from the water table

Actually, folks aren't buried in Louisiana, they're entombed above ground
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:52 AM on May 30, 2012


Why isn't the correct answer here to go to the public and ask the legislature to fix the law?

For those who haven't read the article, they tried this and it got killed in committee by the funeral home lobby.
posted by indubitable at 5:52 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Caskets do not seal corpses away from ground water. Wood coffins rot, after all. The article says Louisiana law doesn't require a casket at all. I suspect the safeguards against water contamination have more to do with cemetery location and geology.
posted by jon1270 at 5:54 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


three blind mice:
"Don't let the robes and stuff fool you. This isn't any honest labor union. These are job-busting scabs. Down with the monks and their caskets."
After this thread, I immediately assumed you were serious. My calibration must have gotten knocked off.
posted by charred husk at 5:58 AM on May 30, 2012


Actually, folks aren't buried in Louisiana, they're entombed above ground

Not everywhere; just certain low-lying areas, like New Orleans.
posted by dubold at 6:06 AM on May 30, 2012


So... this is actually pretty interesting.

For starters, here's the opinion in the Louisiana case: St. Joseph Abbey v. Castille, 2:10-cv-02717 (E.D. La. July 21, 2011).

The court held, in essence, that because the regulation was aimed at the sale of caskets rather than the conduct of funeral services or the manufacture of caskets, it lacked any legitimate, rational basis and thus violated the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of Due Process and Equal Protection. The states are allowed to enact sweeping and intrusive economic regulations in ways that the federal government isn't, but the states aren't allowed to blatantly pick favors without some kind of underlying justification. So licensing regimes are in, but they have to make at least some sense. If the monks had been conducting their own, unlicensed funeral services, the opinion suggests that they would have lost, because the provision of services is something the states can take an interest in protecting. But because they were objecting simply to the restrictions on the retail sale of an unregulated commodity, they won.

The reason this is interesting is because it's probably just one of the earliest steps at chipping away at the states massive and monopolistic licensing regimes in tons of professions that don't obviously require them. Physicians? Yeah, we want them to have licenses. Same with lawyers and architects. Electricians and plumbers? That makes some sense. But hairdressers? Now that's starting to look like irrational protectionism. And when it comes down to the straight-up sale of products that don't have any particular requirements? Well, the judge thought that was just too much.

This isn't the only case where these sorts of regulations are being challenged. See also Heffner v. Murphy, 4:08-cv-00990 (M.D. Pa. May 8, 2012), which just came out this month. In that case, a bunch of funeral directors challenged the legitimacy of the regulations promulgated by the State Board of Funeral Directors, which hadn't updated their regs in about fifty years, with the effect of giving a pronounced advantage to established businesses at the expense of market entrants. The judge actually ruled for the plaintiffs, though the opinion is like 160 pages, so I haven't given it a careful reading. Among the claims that were successful:

- The "inspections" conducted by the Board were so random and unannounced that they amounted to a campaign to put newer funeral homes out of business, and thus constituted an unconstitutional warrantless search pursuant to the Fourth Amendment.

- The restriction on ownership of funeral homes, the requirement that funeral directors be on call full-time, and the requirement that every funeral home have a "prep room" for embalming were all impermissible burdens on interstate commerce.

- The prohibition against serving food in funeral homes violated substantive due process.

- The restriction on funeral home naming conventions violated the First Amendment.

Etc.

The opinion actually discusses Castille, distinguishing it because the Louisiana case focused exclusively on the retail sale of unregulated products, while a lot of the Pennsylvania case had to do with the provision of regulated services. While some of those services were overturned, services are easier to regulate than retail sales, because other than things like labor laws and food safety regulations... there's not a whole lot to do there.

I think we're just starting to see these sorts of things get going.
posted by valkyryn at 6:11 AM on May 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


I my state you can buy your casket anywhere. You don't have to go through a funeral home.

As the article points out, LA residents are free to purchase caskets online from Walmart and Costco. The law is not a consumer-protection measure. It's a funeral-home-protection measure.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:11 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Big Monk

Loved his collaboration with Public Enemy.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:12 AM on May 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


I was initially sympathetic, until I read the article and learned that these monks read aloud to each other from the book of Bill O'Reilly. I guess I prefer my low-cost funeral gear made by men in ancient service served without a side of 21st century hate politics. And they're charging a fortune! The plain pine box of yore should be a lot less than $1500-2000 in today's currency.

The same law firm has a side business in suing to protect the rights of tours guides to work without licenses (D.C. is a well-known racket), which I do support, although their video for the campaign is remarkably dumb. Ooooo, ghosties.
posted by Scram at 6:14 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Scram, your disliking the monks' entertainment and or the politics of the law firm really has nothing whatsoever to do with the merits of their case. If the law is a bad law, it's equally bad for people you like.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:20 AM on May 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


I like to believe that they were reading O'Reilly ironically. Hipster monks.
posted by Optamystic at 6:32 AM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


I guess I prefer my low-cost funeral gear made by men in ancient service served without a side of 21st century hate politics.

Also, they could be reading it for the lulz. Not every book has to serve as a good example. In any event, hearing books read aloud during mealtime is part of the Benedictine tradition.
posted by jquinby at 6:34 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


At a recent meal, the monks scattered along long wooden tables ... listening to a fellow monk read from Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Lincoln.”

There are more chores in the afternoon


But after that cleaning out the cess pit with a toothbrush comes as a relief.
posted by Grangousier at 6:37 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Absolutely, Kirth Gerson, nothing to do with the merits of the case. But since they're marketing themselves using their unique status as a arcane religious community, smearing that with contemporary ideology is just bad business, since it muddles the message.
posted by Scram at 6:38 AM on May 30, 2012


"Why isn't the correct answer here to go to the public and ask the legislature to fix the law?"

I think they tried for the same effect by going to court. Court rules that the law doesn't apply or is invalid, law gets struck down. Probably cheaper and better for PR than trying to lobby the legislature to change the law.
posted by foxywombat at 6:39 AM on May 30, 2012


Wait, so, in this scenario, is ColdChef *evil*? Because somehow, that makes the whole thing seem wrong.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:54 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Speaking of dead people and books, Walker Percy is buried there at St. Joseph's.

Also, Jacquilynne, I feel like we had a post about this very issue before (it's been going on for a while) and Cold Chef commented on it... Maybe I was dreaming.
posted by resurrexit at 7:00 AM on May 30, 2012


That is our most reasonably priced receptacle.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:01 AM on May 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


Also, I can second that they're probably reading O'Reilly for the lulz; that particular Benedictine house is fairly "liberal" as far as Catholic monasteries go. And they really do read whatever. As someone's noted, Benedictines read at mealtimes. When I stayed at a monastery in Oklahoma, they were reading (actually, it was all chanted in monotone--if you love reading or being read to, and can ever experience this, please do), variously, from the Rule of St. Benedict (a staple, obviously), a biography of St. Augustine, a book about Maurice Herzog's ascent of Annapurna, and a letter of St. Paul. All of this was in plainchant.
posted by resurrexit at 7:06 AM on May 30, 2012


Evil ColdChef? With a goatee? And lots of piercings?

YOU STAB EM WE SLAB EM SPECIALS ON MONDAYS AND THURSDAYS TELL EM SHAWKEY SENT YOU AND GET OUR SPECIAL TWO FOR ONE MURDER SUICIDE DEAL AND WHEN BODY PARTS ARE MISSING YOU GET OUR SUPER SLASHER CUT-RATE DISCOUNT DONT FORGET OUR DEALS ON RECEPTION POT-LUCK FEATURING BURGERS, SAUSAGE AND STEW AND FOR THE BEST PRICE POSSIBLE OUR CAPN AHAB SENDOFF JUST ROLL OFF THE HEARSE AND RIGHT INTO THE BAY WITH FREE SPARKLERS FOR THE LITTLE ONES
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:08 AM on May 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


I wonder if the Monks could circumvent the law by giving away the caskets for a certain donation amount. Like PBS or TV evangelists that give you a book or set of tapes for a certain level of contribution.
posted by Bort at 7:25 AM on May 30, 2012


I have no problem with someone making their own casket. People do it all the time. We make them sign a waiver in case the casket fails (this also happens).

The monks have skirted the law for years. They used to "give" the caskets to families (in return for a $2000 donation), so it would not be sales. They are a non-profit organization who doesn't pay taxes, directly competing with family firms. They were offered a legal way to become a casket merchant, and they didn't do it.

Funeral homes don't want to sell their product, because it's a substandard one, and often more expensive than the "simple wooden boxes" they're supposed to replace. I've used their caskets and had them leak. I've had the handles come off and the lining fall in during a service. The pictures on their website don't really look like the caskets they deliver. They used to make caskets on a case by case basis, but now they stockpile them (which leads to cracked wood and water stains).

The laws do favor the funeral industry, but in this case, it's hard for me to argue for the monks. I suppose this makes me sort of evil.
posted by ColdChef at 7:44 AM on May 30, 2012 [37 favorites]


ColdChef: I've used their caskets and had them leak.

My thought process there was roughly, "What? How could that mat... oh. Oh." And then I realized that I'm glad I'm not in your line of work. And I also now realize that the reason for box regulation may indeed be to protect funeral home operators, but perhaps not quite how everyone imagines.
posted by Malor at 7:53 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


If this is overruled we can expect to see the IKEA Körppssböcks
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:54 AM on May 30, 2012 [24 favorites]


I suppose this makes me sort of evil.

If only I were that evil. . . .
posted by Danf at 7:55 AM on May 30, 2012


Somewhere there's a headline that reads "Monks got wood".
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 7:59 AM on May 30, 2012


"casket merchant"


best metal band name EVER!
posted by ShawnString at 8:01 AM on May 30, 2012


I hear those are some popular caskets. People are just dying to get them.
posted by Hoenikker at 8:02 AM on May 30, 2012


“The number one thing you should do as a public interest litigator is to get monks as your clients in every single case.”

Reminds me of a line from "All in the Family"-- In a court of law, you can't beat a station wagon filled with nuns!
posted by notmtwain at 8:02 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The last time I used one of these caskets, the widow wanted to make sure that everyone could see that it was a monk casket, so she had us face it backwards in the church so that the "label" would face the congregation, (which made the body face the wrong way) but if she'd have been a better Catholic, she'd have realized that when we draped the pall over it, her conspicuous anti-consumption would be hidden.
posted by ColdChef at 8:04 AM on May 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


best metal band name EVER!

I liked Big Monk Labor.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 8:07 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the monks will be pretty relentless since they are on a mission from God.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 8:07 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, although that's not always how these laws work. They often work by requiring the work to be done by a professional (e.g. electricians, plumbers, etc). Granted, those are ALSO protectionism but the original reason, and continuing effect, was for some safety thing.
posted by DU at 8:46 AM on May 30 [+] [!]


Guilds always claimed to be about quality, but when you investigate how they actually behaved, it was often more about protectionism.

(There was a Planet Money episode about this a little while ago - they interviewed a historian! Usually they just talk to historical economists, not economic historians - and, weirdly, there is a difference.)
posted by jb at 8:24 AM on May 30, 2012


And I also now realize that the reason for box regulation may indeed be to protect funeral home operators, but perhaps not quite how everyone imagines.

Again, that isn't what's going on. There isn't any box regulation. There's retail regulation. If the state wanted to impose requirements on how caskets are constructed, they probably can. But they didn't. They just imposed limits on who could sell them, without imposing any requirements as to the caskets themselves.
posted by valkyryn at 8:26 AM on May 30, 2012


Usually they just talk to historical economists, not economic historians - and, weirdly, there is a difference.

Not weird at all. Most economists, like most lawyers, and really most non-historians, period, are absolutely lousy historians.
posted by valkyryn at 8:27 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Casket Conundrum, Monks Buried By Opposition!
posted by edgeways at 8:30 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Historical economists do good research, but they come from a different discipline and ask different questions. I think things work best when historians and economists are in conversation.
posted by jb at 8:32 AM on May 30, 2012


Casket Conundrum, Monks Buried By Opposition!

BOX NIX ROX MONX
posted by jquinby at 8:56 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was just at a friend's dad's funeral and my friend(the son) was just thrilled at the level of planning his dad had done pre-paying and leaving shipping instructions at his pre-paid funeral home. It looked nice. My friend made me admire it a couple of times as he was very proud of his dad's thoughtfulness. I sent this article to him to see if it's the same monks or is this just a niche market for monks nationwide?
posted by readery at 9:05 AM on May 30, 2012



Not weird at all. Most economists, like most lawyers, and really most non-historians, period, are absolutely lousy historians.
posted by valkyryn at 8:27 AM on May 30


I'm getting tired of explaining that one. We need to write up a memo and send it to the economists, the evolutionary psychologists, and everyone else.

"Dear public,

There's more to the study of history than wild speculation and clever mnemonics for memorizing the date of Colombus' voyage. If you don't know what I'm talking about please keep your mad ramblings out of print, and preferably confined to the bar room.

Sincerely, everyone with any kind of formal education in the field."
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:09 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's more to the study of history than wild speculation and clever mnemonics for memorizing the date of Colombus' voyage

not really, for example Noam Chomsky.
(Kidding)
posted by clavdivs at 9:16 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dom Gregory de Wit painted murals on the refectory walls and in the church at St. Joseph Abbey. These are worth seeing. Notecard reproductions of some of the images are available in the gift and seminary book shop. (I should have bought more when I had the chance.) His portrait of Mary Magdalene was considered fairly shocking when painted. (All that red hair.) His time at the abbey and his work as remembered by some of the older monks is part of a current oral history and archival project. You can see the murals, or some of them, if you tour the abbey or go there on retreat.

My own time on retreat there left a memory of a very serene and different world from the one I live in. I enjoyed learning about it. Aside from being Walker Percy's burial place, and until they started selling caskets to the public, the abbey was perhaps best known for its breadmaking. It makes and distributes to charitable organizations 2000 loaves of bread every week, up from 1000 loaves when they began. The free bread allows the organizations to use their funds to feed more people.
posted by Anitanola at 9:41 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


But hairdressers? Now that's starting to look like irrational protectionism

Surely infection control forms a rational basis for the licensing of hairdressers?
posted by atrazine at 9:48 AM on May 30, 2012


I'm standing with the libertarians on more and more issues these days. Is that because I'm becoming a libertarian, many of the freedoms I thought were available to the people are actually not/being slowly eroded, or a combination of both?

An interesting (d/)evolution, either way.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:52 AM on May 30, 2012


economic historians

Print their theses on both sides of the paper.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 9:57 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Is that because I'm becoming a libertarian, many of the freedoms I thought were available to the people are actually not/being slowly eroded, or a combination of both?

So getting laws refined isn't quite libertarianism is it; surely, it is possible to believe that a certain law was badly drafted, or was drafted to benefit a certain vested special-interest without believing that the whole edifice of government and the executive needs to be washed away.
posted by the cydonian at 10:00 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was going to comment on the topic, but now I'm here to say:

Article aside, that was a horribly written and formatted piece.

It made my head ache and my eyes water.

I couldn't focus on any one idea.

That is all.
posted by DisreputableDog at 10:09 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Surely infection control forms a rational basis for the licensing of hairdressers?

Also, some hair-treatment techniques use actually dangerous compounds. Requiring training and licensing could have a real protective effect.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:41 AM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have it in my will that when I die, I want my body disposed of in the same manner as is used for those who die indigent, unidentified, or as wards of the state. I believe in my state that means cremation in a cardboard box, which suits me just fine.
posted by KathrynT at 10:44 AM on May 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Metafilter: It’s just a big box.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:29 AM on May 30, 2012


I have it in my will that when I die, I want my body disposed of in the same manner as is used for those who die indigent, unidentified, or as wards of the state.

Body Farm.
posted by ColdChef at 11:43 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: We do not provide tours of our Outdoor Research Facility.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:59 AM on May 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


ColdChef: The University of Tennessee?! How dare you, sir.
posted by freakinloon at 12:33 PM on May 30, 2012


I once attended a funeral for a man who was buried in a very nicely-made (and very plain) pine box with rope handles. It was laid inside of a bigger cement box (which had already been laid in the hole), which had a heavy cement lid to place on top of it. This was in southern Vermont. I don't know if this was due to the water table level, or what -- I heard speculation that it was to keep in the various fluids (ew), or to keep the casket from eventually making its way up to the surface. I do know that the cement box -- called a liner, I think? -- was not a negotiable thing in this particular cemetery.

The family was insistent about bypassing the entire funeral industry. He died at home, was placed in his casket and then brought (on the back of a friend's pickup truck) to a cold storage locker, and laid in along with other store-bought caskets to wait until the ground thawed. The widow was a true DIY Vermonter at heart, even though she was raised in Texas.
posted by chowflap at 12:51 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, these may seem really expensive, but having someone in the family who has worked in this industry, the funeral directors also will often sell incredibly expensive-beyond-all-reason caskets. So the monks may actually be undercutting things.

The more I look into the protectionism for various industries, though, the more I have to say it horrifies me. Funerals have no reason to be as expensive as they are, but because of regulations, families often have few other options.
posted by corb at 12:55 PM on May 30, 2012


Casket liners are usually required by cemeteries to prevent graves from sinking in when the casket deteriorates. It helps when it comes to cutting the grass.

the funeral directors also will often sell incredibly expensive-beyond-all-reason caskets.

The same could be said about cars or food or homes or clothes or anything. Again: you can make your own casket. Most people don't, just like most people don't make their own clothes.

The high cost of caskets offsets the day to day expenses of funeral homes: The maintaining of the limos and hearses. The cost of the backhoes and cemetery tents. And the fact that, unlike nearly every other profession: a mortician is always on call. Day and night, seven days a week, every day of the year. My siblings and I share the responsibility, but when your grandmother dies in the middle of the night, I don't tell you that I'll come when it's convenient to me, I get out of bed, put on my suit and come immediately. And funerals are not steady. You may go days or weeks without a service, and then one bad car wreck and you're serving five families at once.

So, while it's easy to cherry-pick a bill of sale and say that caskets are overpriced, funeral homes depend on casket sales to keep the doors open. If you're the kind of person who'd rather do everything yourself, more power to you. But in a time of grief, most people would rather hire someone to take care of the details that are burdensome.
posted by ColdChef at 1:39 PM on May 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


And it bears repeating: families have plenty of options when it comes to final disposition. Most of them don't think about it until it's too late, though.
posted by ColdChef at 1:41 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The high cost of caskets offsets the day to day expenses of funeral homes: The maintaining of the limos and hearses. The cost of the backhoes and cemetery tents.

See, I understand that, but I think that's problematic. Why not roll those costs into the areas specifically dealing with them? Limo and hearse costs into the price of rental for limo and hearse. Burial costs into those specifically receiving burials from that location. Some profit markup is reasonable, but when it becomes "shove the costs from one area into a different, hard to move area," it's kind of hard.

I think I'm particularly sensitive on this score because I recently started planning for all of this, and found the unpleasant surprise that the law prohibits anyone but a funeral director from doing some of the services that I would like. (Though this may not be the case in all states.) Thus, I feel like my family is forced by law to buy at inflated prices. They're not legally allowed to hold a wake at our home. In some areas, they're not legally allowed to transport the body to the burial site.

Your own practice may be quite different, but the family member who did have experience in mortuary work said that quite often, families would not be informed of those other options, and would be pressured into taking the more expensive and painful ones.
posted by corb at 2:00 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why not roll those costs into the areas specifically dealing with them? Limo and hearse costs into the price of rental for limo and hearse.

This is kind of what most funeral homes do, but caskets, themselves, are expensive to us as well. Every industry has overhead prices. The cost of your meal at the Olive Garden isn't just the value of your pasta, tomatoes, and basil. It includes salaries, facilities, promotions, etc.

There are some laws that funeral home lobbyists have worked in there, and I don't always agree with all of them. But it's an industry and industries protect themselves through laws and lobbyists.

I have had wakes in family homes, but Louisiana does require a licensed funeral director to be present at a graveside. But I think this is probably a good idea, because you can't imagine what it was like before this was the case. Bodies buried here and there. Graves unmarked. Bodies exhumed and moved without permissions. Wild west kind of scenarios.

It's always in a family's best interest to be informed consumers. This means that you find out what you want to do before someone dies. This isn't always easy or possible. If a family asks me what their alternatives are, I'm happy to tell them, but I have to admit that I don't always offer every family every possible scenario. Too many choices can often be as bad as not enough choices.

If a family is on a tight budget, I don't mind letting them forgo the cortege or hauling their own flowers. It's when you get into areas like digging their own graves that you run into trouble. Too deep, not deep enough, and once a shallow pit, fifteen feet across. People aren't great at following directions.
posted by ColdChef at 2:24 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


The upkeep of my body has consumed the earth's resources for as long as I've been alive, and will continue to do so until I die. The least I can do to pay the earth back is to not top it off with a resource-intensive bonanza after I'm dead, when nothing that's done makes a damned bit of difference to me anyway. It's not a like a nice coffin makes me less dead. The entire point of burying someone is to facilitate decomposition, not interfere with it.

I'd prefer the traditional Jewish practice: no embalming, no delays, and nothing but a linen shroud. Alas that this is not legal in many places, and that the only reasons it's not legal are because it squicks some people out, and because some other people want to profit off of my demise more than the cost of two laborers with shovels and a 5x10 plot of land would otherwise allow.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:34 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd prefer vultures and crows, personally.

Alas, Canada, so incineration, grinding and blending with salt and spices to br bottled up as Mr. Puck All Purpose Seasoning & Rub. Pre-need sale on now, act fast because quantities will be limited. (I weigh less than I used to.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:44 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


So getting laws refined isn't quite libertarianism is it; surely, it is possible to believe that a certain law was badly drafted, or was drafted to benefit a certain vested special-interest without believing that the whole edifice of government and the executive needs to be washed away.

This is true, but I (like many here, I suspect) have found through interacting with libertarians both online and off them and their beliefs to be so repugnant and terrible that anything pushed by someone identifying as one sets off alarm bells. When I got to the "libertarian lawyers" part of the article I thought, "Uh oh, these guys are probably using this as an opening to try to erode the general regulatory regime", and sure enough, they are.

It's tough because while I sympathize with the oppressed-mom-and-pop-shop cases, what these groups are hoping for is a ruling that will lead to more sweeping changes which the Mr. Burnses of the world are slavering for.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:52 PM on May 30, 2012


I have had wakes in family homes, but Louisiana does require a licensed funeral director to be present at a graveside. But I think this is probably a good idea, because you can't imagine what it was like before this was the case. Bodies buried here and there. Graves unmarked. Bodies exhumed and moved without permissions. Wild west kind of scenarios.

Yeah, this may be a thing that varies by state. I completely, completely understand the regulations on where and how you bury people. I'm more bothered by the restrictions on things beforehand, like wakes and transportation and things like that.

I think again, this is partially still my own shock at the fact that most of the cost of a funeral is not actually the land (which I would expect) or the embalming (which I would also expect) but for incidentals that families might want to do elsewhere or other ways but are prohibited from, for reasons that don't make a lot of public health sense. Like, I can understand why you don't want home embalming going on, but I can't understand why it wouldn't be okay for the family to pick up the body, display them at home, and bring the body back in time for burial.

It's tough because while I sympathize with the oppressed-mom-and-pop-shop cases, what these groups are hoping for is a ruling that will lead to more sweeping changes which the Mr. Burnses of the world are slavering for.


I think in this case the Mr. Burns want more regulation, not less.
posted by corb at 3:01 PM on May 30, 2012


Regulation is light in the UK. In general, you get to do what you want.

Although.. one of my dearest friends, who died at least thirty years too soon (and would have loved MeFi. Hello, you old goat), opted for a very eco-friendly wicker basket sort of coffin. Impeccable, but (as I confessed to one of his daughters after the funeral) it did rather look like a picnic hamper being hidden by pirates when it was lowered into the ground.

Fortunately, she'd thought exactly the same thing.

Me? Stuffed and mounted, please. Salute when you walk past.
posted by Devonian at 4:59 PM on May 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


ColdChef: "Most of them don't think about it until it's too late, though."

I think that's precisely why they deserve to have more protection than they would in normal day-to-day transactions. People have a hard time making rational decisions after the death of a loved one, just like they have a hard time making rational decisions when it comes to end-of-life health care.

corb: "I think in this case the Mr. Burns want more regulation, not less."

When it places restrictions on compensation, Mr. Burns always wants more regulation, presuming Mr. Burns is already in the business being regulated. Some days it seems like more than half our laws are actually about giving someone a special advantage or tax benefit.
posted by wierdo at 5:07 PM on May 30, 2012


In general, you get to do what you want.

I want to be buried on a platform on top of a 25' pole. We don't have vultures here (Alberta), but there are lots of crows and magpies. I'd be good eating, and yes, you can have my liver.
posted by sneebler at 5:56 PM on May 30, 2012


I grant I'm overthinking a throwaway joke, but is a public interest lawyer whose case choice rests on the apparent characters of the clients and opposition actually considering the public interest at all? Isn't the point of public interest that the facts of the case dictate its importance to the common good?
posted by gingerest at 6:08 PM on May 30, 2012


(Could one of you coffin stuffers please carry me?)
posted by bakerina at 6:27 PM on May 30, 2012


There are some laws that funeral home lobbyists have worked in there, and I don't always agree with all of them.

I'm very curious as to which laws "funeral home lobbyists have worked in there" that you don't agree with, ColdChef. Can you give us more detail?
posted by mediareport at 6:44 PM on May 30, 2012


The entire point of burying someone is to facilitate decomposition, not interfere with it.

Burial at sea, people. Resource reallocation.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:00 PM on May 30, 2012


... is a public interest lawyer whose case choice rests on the apparent characters of the clients and opposition actually considering the public interest at all? Isn't the point of public interest that the facts of the case dictate its importance to the common good?

If you're trying to establish a precedent, you'll go with the case that has the best chance of winning, both legally and in the court of public opinion. Compare Claudette Colvin with Rosa Parks, for example.
posted by dragoon at 7:04 PM on May 30, 2012


We don't have vultures here (Alberta)...

You have Turkey Vultures in parts in AB, looks like your location may be just on the edge of their range though. Take your corpse over to Medicine Hat and you should be good to go.
posted by edgeways at 7:16 PM on May 30, 2012


It could only liven up the night life. (Yes, I am a rotten person. You see, I grew up in Edmonton and thus have very few occasions to sneer at other people's parochiality. For example, I still chortle about a poster I saw in Wetaskiwin for "Red Deer's most authentic hip-hop!")
posted by gingerest at 7:44 PM on May 30, 2012


Those interested in an eye-opening look at funeral traditions and practices in North America would find The American Way Of Death by Jessica Mitford well worth a read.

A brief taste ...

Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain ( PDF )
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:27 AM on May 31, 2012


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