Caring for our Own: After Death Care Workshop

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Home Care of Our Deceased –Family Rights Legislation Passes Senate!

On April 15, 2010 the Minnesota State Senate passed by a big margin (50 to 13) the Home Care of Our Deceased bill (HF3151) which supports home-based after-death care. The bill will now go to the Governor for signature.

What does this mean?

• Families can hold a public visitation on private property without embalming for up to four days

• Minors are no longer prohibited from being in the presence of an unembalmed body

• Safe, appropriate transportation options for the body are broadened

Special thanks to some key players:

• Representative Carolyn Laine who championed this bill and spent many hours working out the details for a smooth passage. Her diligence and deep understanding of the issues involved were impressive.

• Senator Sandra Pappas for sponsoring the bill in the Senate and her eloquence in speaking to the committee and defending the bill on the Senate floor.

• Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center of Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the U of M, whose testimony before both the House and Senate committees and subsequent letter to legislators gave a strong scientific foundation for the public health safety of funerals with unembalmed bodies.

Finally, many thanks to all of you for your support. Writing and calling your representatives made a big difference in the overwhelming votes in favor of these changes in both the House and the Senate.

Pictured below after the first Senate vote on April 12, front row from left to right: Nancy Manahan, Senator Sandy Pappas, Reprsentative Carolyn Laine, Michelle Dehn; backrow: Marianne Dietzel, Becky Bohan Heather Halen

Bill Passes House!

On Tuesday, April 7, 2010, the Home Care of Our Deceased–Family Rights legislation passed the Minnesota House of Representatives by a 121 to 7 margin, a wonderful success! Several members of the Minnesota Threshold Network sat in the gallery to watch the proceedings. It was thrilling to see Representative Carolyn Laine present the bill and explain its purpose. The legislation passed with little discussion.

A big THANK YOU to Representative Laine who has been an eloquent champion of the cause and who has worked hard to gather support and mediate differences. Another big THANK YOU to Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the U of M, who wrote a resounding letter of support for the bill and brought some sound science to the table.

Finally, a big THANK YOU to all who called or emailed their representative. Our voices have been heard!

Now comes the last big hurdle–the Senate. Senator Sandy Pappas will be presenting the bill soon. If you haven’t contacted your senator, asking for a yes vote on House File 3151, please do. To find your senator, click here

We’ll keep you posted.

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.

Removing Outmoded Restrictions on Home Funerals

At the October 26th meeting of the Minnesota Threshold Network, we spent most of our time strategizing on how to improve Minnesota state laws governing home funerals.

Our major concern is that Minnesota is the only state in the nation that requires  embalming for public viewing [149A.91 Subd. 3]. This means that families cannot legally hold a vigil for a deceased loved one (without embalming) in their own home with anyone other than immediate family members present. There is no scientific basis for such a requirement, and this statue should be removed to give families more choices at the end of life.

 Other concerns:

 1. SF 802 puts new limits on who may care for the dead, hampering a family’s choices. Now, only the person with the right to control disposition may transport a body, for example, not another family member, church committee, or unpaid designee. [149A.01 Subd. 3 (c)]

 2. MN law maintains a provision for hospitals and other institutions to refuse to release a body directly to a family that might wish to care for their own dead, requiring the use of a funeral director instead. [149A.01 Subd. 3 (e)]

 3. MN law now bans family members from the preparation room in a funeral home. [149A.91 Subd. 2]

The home funeral/green burial movement is gaining momentum nationally, as evidenced by feature stories in the March 2009 issue of Smithsonian magazine and in the October 2009 AAPR Bulletin. A July 2009 front page story in the New York Times (and in the Star Tribune) on home funerals quotes Minnesota Threshold Network member Nancy Manahan and mentions Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully.  She also was featured in a WCCO TV News story on green burials last fall.  There is no reason for a state as progressive as Minnesota to be so far behind the curve and have such outdated and unnecessary regulations.

The group drew up preliminary plans to identify friendly legislators and to set up meetings with them.

We did not set a date for the next meeting. When we do so, it will be posted here as well as sent out to all members via email.

We welcome anyone who has the time and energy to help change these unnecessarily strict laws!

“Departures”/Next Threshold Meeting

“Departures,” the 2009 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film, is an inspiring glimpse into Japan’s cultural heritage of caring for a body after death.  When a young cellist loses his Tokyo orchestra job, he and his wife move back to his hometown. He answers a classified ad entitled “Departures,” thinking it’s a travel agency only to discover that the job involves washing and casketing bodies. Daigo overcomes his initial horror and comes to love the reverential ceremonies, which can be transformational for the families involved  .  .  .  and eventually for him and his wife.

“Departures” beautifully depicts an approach to death that could teach our culture much.  It is midway between conventional funeral practices and caring for our own at home.  Although a professional washes and dresses the body, the ritual happens in the deceased person’s home with the family surrounding their loved one. There is no embalming. Shocking, funny, and profoundly moving things happen during this process.

Anyone interested in threshold work, spiritual openings, interpersonal transformations, or just exquisite filmmaking will enjoy “Departures.” It is currently playing at the Edina Landmark Theatre at 50th and France in Minneapolis.  To see a trailer, click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaFRCLAYEF0

Mark your calendars: the next MN Threshold meeting is September 15, 7pm at Linda Bergh’s home, 4315 Xerxes Ave. S, Mpls.  Linda’s phone:  612.927.0894.

Nancy Manahan, co-author of Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully: A Journey with Cancer and Beyond