Life’s race well run,
Life’s work well done,
Life’s victory won,
Now cometh rest.
-Edward Hazen Parker, M.D. (1823–1896)
Of the many indignities suffered during life, death should be the last. Unfortunately, for some, it is not. All cultures throughout history have embraced specific ideas on how funeral rites should be exercised. One concept that is common to all cultures is the sanctity of the body of the dead. When this sanctity is compromised by abuse or neglect it can have varying religious, societal and emotional connotations. When we suffer the death of a loved one, we hope that the people we entrust with the preparation of our loved one’s earthly body share that common respect.
Today, dignity for the dead is a legal matter. We look to funeral home and mortuary workers for peace of mind in our time of great sorrow. The last thing we would expect is for these providers to act unscrupulously or negligently in the care of our loved ones. Unfortunately, it does happen.
Forms of Abuse and Neglect
- Cremation of the wrong body
- Improper storage: Not refrigerating the body immediately following death, but before the embalming process could lead to rapid deterioration of the human remains.
- Improper disposal: Funeral home operators dispose of the body in a manner not authorized by the deceased’s loved ones.
- Improper embalming: Utilization of embalming techniques that cause premature decomposition of the body especially in cases where the body in question is to be presented in an open-casket funeral.
- Multiple bodies or the wrong body placed in the coffin
- Commingling of ashes: Putting several carcasses in the same crematorium during the same burn cycle. This act undermines the respect due a passed loved one
- Body parts removed and/or sold: Called “fencing”, this is when body parts are stolen from carcasses that are sent to the morgue for embalming and then sold on the black market
- Grave site vandalism
- Theft of personal property
- Unlicensed individuals and companies
- Pre-need contract sale abuse
Why Does This Happen?
These tragedies can occur because a funeral home is trying to cut corners and save money, because they are trying to increase financial benefits, or because they are careless. In any of these cases, funeral home abuse is reprehensible as it not only allows for the exploitation of families in crisis but also has such far reaching emotional, religious and societal affects.