Testimony of Rep. Carolyn Laine on Home Care of Our Deceased Bill

In March 2010, the chief sponsors of the Home Care of Our Deceased–Family Rights Legislation appeared before legislative committees. Below is the testimony of Representative Carolyn Laine before the House Committee on March 9, 2010. Senator Sandy Pappas delivered this same testimony with minor changes to the Senate Committee on March 17, 2010. Both committees approved the bill and it will be brought to the legislative floors in early April.

This bill addresses a subject we don’t talk about very much – the care of the bodies of our deceased loved ones.

The purpose of this bill is to make a few changes in the statutes to help support Home-Based After-Death Care.

First, a little history. Several generations ago, preparing our dead for burial & funeral rites fell to family and friends.

It was actually the Civil War that began a change: families wanted their loved ones’ bodies sent home for burial – and that task, which could have taken many days, was helped by the use of a new technique: embalming.

Gradually embalming and “undertakers” became more common. But as we handed this final experience with our loved ones over to strangers, we became disconnected from this very natural – and inevitable – part of life’s journey.

This disconnect has left us with a gap in our knowledge about death, and bodies, — and we’re always afraid of the unknown.

So, we tend to have the perception that every dead body is somehow dangerous or infectious, – it is not. Or that we need to quickly call “professionals” to deal with it, to “take it away,” – we don’t. Or that the body needs to be “preserved” by embalming, — it doesn’t, (and isn’t really…).

And with this gap in our understanding, we don’t have any idea what we’ve lost in a human or sacred sense, in the experience of this final passage.

There are those who are reclaiming the experience of this threshold time and discovering it can be quite a transforming experience.

You know, about 35 years ago, the Baby Boomers began reclaiming the experience of another threshold – birth; not necessarily rejecting the help of professionals, but wanting to work as a team with them, to reduce the use of drugs, and to have the father in this process. We’ve made childbirth a more human and sacred experience – (than my mother’s experience when she was put to sleep for delivery.

Well, now we Baby Boomers will be aging, and at some point, dying. We and our children will be speaking more openly about death, looking for processes that are more interactive, more “natural,” and with less use of toxic chemicals.

This is a good thing.

I participated in a 72 hour vigil after my friend’s husband died several years ago. He was kept at their home, and the experience was amazing. It is hard to have words for it, so I’d like to show a few minutes from a PBS special called “A Family Undertaking.” The woman speaking lost her 7 year old daughter when the airbag killed her in a low-speed collision.

 [A clip from “A Family Undertaking” was shown.]

I appreciated working with so many on this bill, including funeral directors. I just want to emphasize that though we’ve opened the option of using dry ice instead of embalming – it IS an option – no one is required to do so; neither funeral homes nor consumers. This is about choice …. And we can now let consumer demand play into it.

This statute was made more restrictive in MN regarding embalming three years ago for a good reason: There is a nation-wide increase in for-profit businesses that …trade in fresh dead bodies.

They may give a family the impression that they are a non-profit academic or research entity – which our U of M and Mayo Clinic truly are – and then they obtain the body free, proceeding to make a good deal of money off it… usually in pieces. When we made embalming requirements stricter, we discouraged their doing business in Minnesota – they don’t want embalmed bodies.

But the unintended consequence was to harm families who want to care for their own dead, more naturally, more lovingly.

I have worked with all concerned parties to make this bill fix that problem, while at the same time re-balancing both these needs.

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