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Casket Discrimination

“Burial Only” . . .”Cremation Only”



Some funeral homes are wisely expanding their offerings to suit an increasingly choosy public. A certain segment, though, wants to have its cake and eat it too. These mortuaries offer choice in only one direction: up (in price). The latest incarnation of this is the shameful practice of applying a double standard to caskets. Here’s a letter we received from a lady in Indiana:

I work in parish management and I am trying to develop some funeral alternatives for our parishioners. One of our parish families went to purchase a casket for burial and was told that they could not purchase a wooden cremation casket. There were forced to buy a “burial casket” that cost $1,500 [while] the cost of the cremation casket was $500. Was this legal? I know that there are air emission guidelines for cremation caskets but I did not think there were legal guidelines that would prevent the use of cremation caskets for burial.

This woman is more perceptive than many; she smelled something fishy. There are no laws anywhere in the country that prevent you from using a “cremation casket” for burial. We know of no laws anywhere that prescribe or prohibit any particular kind of casket for ground burial.

Most crematories, on the other hand, will not accept a metal casket because it can be difficult to burn, and it can cause damage to the retort (cremation chamber). If a family wants a casket (as opposed to a simple cardboard box) before cremation, most crematories require a casket of all-wood construction and a minimum of synthetic materials. The synthetic materials often used in “burial” caskets can release toxic gases as they melt, and can damage the crematory.

But there is no similar concern with cemeteries. It simply doesn’t matter what type of box you use for burial. Why then would the funeral home tell this family they had to buy a “burial casket” just because the family wanted the body buried, not cremated? It seems to be greed, plain and simple, — and here’s where the double standard comes in. Funeral homes know that although some families will want to buy a more ornate casket even if there is to be a cremation, they’ll balk at paying the grossly inflated “traditional” casket prices for a box “that will just get burned up anyway.” So, the funeral homes stock a range of wood coffins suitable for cremation (many are quite attractive) and price them lower than they do their “burial caskets.” Even though the mortuary may make a lower profit proportionally on these “cremation caskets,” they’re still making more money than they would if the family opted for a cheap cardboard “alternative container.” But rest assured some funeral homes would have no qualms about selling you a $6,000 African Mahogany casket destined for cremation, and would probably compliment you on your “good taste.”

The danger in offering these lower-priced caskets, from the undertaker’s point of view, is that families just might buy them. And clearly, this family wanted to. Loath to lose the profit from a more costly “burial casket,” the funeral home took advantage of this family by forcing them to buy a $1,500 casket under the false premise that only certain caskets are “suitable” for burial.

Our advice? If you wish to have a burial, and you see a casket that fits your taste and budget, insist on buying it. Let the funeral director know that you know there are no laws preventing you from using a “cremation casket” for burial, and that you don’t intend to be put over a barrel. If the funeral director doesn’t relent, tell him you’ll find an outside casket seller. He can then choose between angering you and losing the casket sale completely, or treating your family with dignity and building good will for future business.

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