4/27/2012—To our shock, a recently passed bill (HF2369) takes away the ability of local registrars to issue burial-transit permits. Home funeral families are now at the mercy of funeral directors with a conflict of interest or medical examiners who don’t want to cooperate with them. We sent the letter below to the state’s chief registrar.
April 27, 2012
Jill France, Chief, Bureau of Health Statistics
Lucas State Ofc. Bldg. 321 E. 12th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319
Dear Ms. France,
I write to you as the executive director of the nation’s oldest nonprofit dedicated to protecting the rights of funeral consumers, and as the co-author of a book on funeral law state by state (Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death. Upper Access Books, 2011).
I am requesting that you please send a written directive to the state’s funeral directors alerting them that they are required to furnish burial-transit permits to families and lay groups who wish to bury their own dead privately without engaging the commercial funeral industry. I am shocked and dismayed to learn that HF 2369 removed references to the county registrars, thus restricting access to these permits. Now families who want a home funeral are required to go either to the state registrar (impractical) or to a commercial funeral home. Home funeral educator Bonnie Kauth has told me the funeral homes in her area are refusing to issue these permits. This is a blatant conflict of interest and I have to believe it’s illegal. Funeral directors who issue burial transit permits are acting on the state’s behalf. They must not be permitted to refuse to perform that duty in an attempt to force grieving families to purchase their services. I feel certain the sponsors of this legislation could not have intended to give the commercial funeral industry a legal monopoly on every death in the state.
Families who bury their own dead already secure a physician’s signature on the death certificate; the state’s medico-legal interest in the death is discharged. There is no legal or practical reason to deny them burial transit permits for their own kin.
Please let me know when you plan to address this matter. While families who perform their own funerals are in the minority, their rights are important. Funeral directors should be required to provide these permits to families on request and should be barred from charging anything other than the state’s administrative fees. If this problem persists there is a very real risk of adverse publicity for the state and the funeral industry, not to mention the likelihood that a family will file suit against Iowa law on constitutional grounds (freedom of religious practice comes to mind with regard to Amish and Quakers who bury their own). While I hope to work with concerned Iowans and lawmakers to redress this legislation, if that fails my organization will actively encourage and support such a lawsuit.
Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.
Joshua Slocum, Executive Director