New Law Gives Minnesotans A Natural Choice for Care of Deceased

Saint Paul, Minnesota – Governor Pawlenty has signed into law changes that will give Minnesotans a more natural choice in how they care for their deceased loved ones. Under current law, a body must be embalmed if there is a public viewing, but State Rep. Carolyn Laine (DFL – Columbia Heights), who authored the bill, said this practice is largely unneeded. The new law permits dry ice to be used for public viewing of a deceased body within private property, such as a home, church or funeral parlor. 

 “We all have a superstitious belief that bodies must be embalmed to ward off infections. It’s simply not true,” said Laine. “Death is a natural and inevitable process, and this law will provide people a more natural way to remember, honor and celebrate the lives of our loved ones.” 

Laine said embalming first came into use during the Civil War and was used to delay decomposition of bodies that had to travel a great distance before returning to a family. For families who hold funerals or remembrances shortly after a loved one passes away, embalming serves no logical purpose. “Since there is no scientific or biological reason to do embalming in most instances, it makes sense to provide people a ‘greener’ alternative,” said Laine. 

Laine worked with stakeholders including the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association to reach consensus on the bill. Hospitals and care providers both support the bill. Laine said she hopes the new law will spark dialogue about end of life issues. The new law will go into effect on August 1, 2010. 

Learn what the new law allows for home funerals at a free Public Forum sponsored by Minnesota Threshold Network with special guest State Rep. Carolyn Laine. 

 Topics include: 

               >   New Minnesota law 

               >   How to care for a body at home 

               >   Green burials   

               >   Q & A plus free resource list 

 WHEN:   June 29, 6:30 – 8 pm 

WHERE:  Washburn Public Library, 5244 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55419 

 CONTACT:  mnthresholdnetwork@gmail.com or Becky at 612.823.1910

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.

Another Step Forward!

On March 17, the Minnesota Senate health policy committee passed SF2903, the Home Care of Our Deceased – Family Rights legislation. Senator Sandy Pappas introduced the bill. Heather Halen, Dr. Michael Osterholm, and a representative from the Minnesot Department of Health provided powerful, supportive testimony. The president of the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association, Cory Michaelson also testified. After many questions and much discussion, the vote passed with only one dissention. The No vote was cast by Senator Paul Koering, who has ties to the funeral business.

The Senate committee made a minor change to the language in one section, unwittingly changing something that is needed by the Dept. of Health. The House and Senate authors will be sure that is fixed as they move through the process of voting on the floors of the two bodies.

A big thank-you to all who called the Senators. They received many calls, and we think that made a difference. A special thanks to those of you who attended the House hearing last week and/or the Senate hearing this week.

WE HAVE MORE WORK TO DO!!!

The funeral directors’ concern about the bill is a change from last week, when they emphasized that using dry ice instead of embalming will be an option, and that funerals directors do not have to offer it. At least one legislator has been called by a funeral directors voicing his opposition. It is important that your legislators know that you support this bill! We will email you when the next vote is coming up. In the meantime, please ask friends and family in greater Minnesota for their help. When you receive an alert of an impending vote, please forward the email on to them and have them contact their local legislators. Funeral directors in towns across the state may be calling. Let the voices of consumers who value more choice in dealing with our loved ones’ deaths be heard, too.

House Committee Passes Bill!

The House committee hearing this afternoon went REALLY well! Representative Carolyn Laine introduced the bill (HF3151) and explained the need for it. Heather Halen, a resident of Minneapolis whose husband died last fall, shared her experience of caring for his body at home. Her eloquent description of what it meant to have him nearby, to visit during sleepless nights and talk to, was riveting.  She wished that more people could have been included in this profound and sacred experience, a wish that would be realized by passage of this bill which would lift restrictions on the public viewing of unembalmed bodies.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease, testified as to the safety of having the public view an unembalmed body and be involved on the care of it. He said that pathogens died quickly after the death of the body.

The committee members asked several questions and then the vote was taken. The bill passed out of committee unanimously. It will now go to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.

Next week the Senate will take up the issue.

It was wonderful to have so many supporters attend the hearing. Please try to make it to the next hearing–and let your Representative and Senator know how you feel about this issue!

You can see media coverage by clicking on the following links:

For WCCO TV:

For KSTP TV:

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