Virginia threat to home funerals


We Averted Home Funeral Restrictions in Virginia

When the Virginia assembly took up a seemingly innocuous bill in the 2016 session, they were unprepared for the enormous public outcry that eventually changed the trajectory of the bill, and may contribute to the way funeral laws are made.

SB595 called for mandatory refrigeration of dead bodies after 48 hours or face sending them to a professional. It was the legislative answer to a situation reported to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Kenneth Alexander (R), a funeral director who saw it through the lens of his own experience. He was informed of a body that was allegedly left in a cramped hospital room without attention to preservation measures of any kind for the weekend awaiting autopsy.

The bill passed the first of the Senate’s three readings before home funeral advocates could launch efforts to educate lawmakers about the bill’s far-reaching consequences for Virginia’s home funeral families. By the time cross-over occurred, moving the bill from the Senate to the House, a storm was raging in the form of a petition floated by Springfield resident and National Home Funeral Alliance member Denise Klasen. Registered letters, emails, and phone calls from Virginia citizens and NHFA leadership and members inundated House delegates and members of the subcommittee responsible for moving it to the final vote.

Those subcommittee members heard the commotion and made accommodations in the bill to restrict the reach to institutions that may have need of such direction, leaving home funeral families free to care for their own at home without governmental interference. In a unanimous vote on February 29, the amended bill passed the House, just five weeks after the effort to stop it began.

We are deeply grateful for the independent efforts of so many people who, together, helped to avert further restrictions for home funeral families in Virginia. The reverberations of this event are being felt by policymakers in neighboring states where they have learned something about home funerals and the rights of families that will hopefully steer them in future funeral lawmaking endeavors.

Special thanks to Philip Olson, Terry Skovronek, Denise Klasen, Caitlyn Doughty, and more than 4,000 people who signed the petition, picked up the phone, or pressed Send to let lawmakers know we exist and will fight for our rights.