More options for funeralsMinnesotans can grieve their dead without embalming them, and then invite neighbors and friends into their home for the funeral, under legislation Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law this week.
By: By John Myers, Forum Communications Co. , The Jamestown Sun
Minnesotans can grieve their dead without embalming them, and then invite neighbors and friends into their home for the funeral, under legislation Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law this week.
The change allows families to skip embalming and hold a public viewing or service up to four days after the death.
Until now, if anyone other than family and close friends attended, the state required the body to be embalmed.
The new law also allows children to be in the presence of an unembalmed body, which had been illegal, and expands the types of transportation that families can use to move bodies. The old law required the body be in the same space as the driver, essentially mandating use of a hearse.
“We had a lot of old laws on the books that were based on superstitions and inaccurate information,” said State Rep. Carolyn Laine, DFL-Columbia Heights, chief author of the bill. “We allowed some home funerals, but only for family and close friends. Well, now we can invite the not-so-close friends and skip the embalming.”
The law, which goes into effect Aug. 1, requires the body to be on dry ice if more than family will attend the service.
Leif Larsen, funeral director at Green-Larsen Funeral Home in International Falls and treasurer of the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association, said the changes are small and probably won’t spur any major move to home funerals.
“I’ve worked with families who wanted to participate in the process; everything from dressing their loved ones to fixing their hair. And we’ve had visitations in survivor homes,” Larsen said. “But that’s always been after we do the prep work, after embalming at the funeral home. … As far as home funerals, it’s not something we’re seeing up here. It’s a difficult enough time for survivors without having to worry about caring for the body. That could be pretty overwhelming to a lot of folks.”
The Minnesota Funeral Directors Association, which at first balked at the relaxed embalming regulations, eventually dropped their opposition and helped craft the final language, Laine said.
Under the new law the service must be on private property — such as a home, a funeral home or church — and can’t be in a park or on other public property.
Laine said few Minnesota families are choosing home funerals, maybe 1 percent, but that some people are choosing end-of-life gatherings in their homes and without embalming as either a personal, spiritual or environmental choice.
Laine said she was inspired to sponsor the legislation after attending a home funeral about five years ago, an experience she described deeply moving.
“We are with our loved ones right up to the point they die, and then we were made to feel obliged to get them out of the house as quickly as possible,” Laine said. “Now people can slow down and take their time and grieve naturally, like we did for centuries. We don’t need to be afraid of the dead.”
While Minnesota has generally lagged behind other states in making it easy for home-based funerals, this year’s bill advanced quickly, passing the Senate 50-13 and House 121-7. Laine said the key was testimony by the Michael Osterholm, director of the Center of Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, that there was no public health or medical reason to demand that bodies be embalmed.
The Minnesota Department of Health also backed the changes.
“When Dr. Osterholm testified that it was pure myth that bodies somehow become infectious or diseased after death, that there is no health reason for embalming, the opposition pretty much faded away,” Laine said. “This is about giving people choice.”
John Myers is a reporter at the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune, which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.