Pet Caskets, Green Burial, and Organic Embalming Fluid, Oh My...

I recently attended the National Funeral Directors Association Annual Convention in Orlando. I saw old friends, made some new ones, and overall had a great time. (Here comes the “but&rdquoWinking BUT, I was shocked by some of things I saw all in the name of progress. Read the following all in good fun.

I saw caskets that have been designed to be buried standing up, four per grave space. Yikes. I don’t want to stand up for eternity as that sounds horribly tiring. Not to mention the personal space issue. I think it’s nice that cemeteries give everyone their own grave space. For anyone who thinks we’re running out of land, have you flown over Wyoming lately? I have, there’s plenty.

I talked to a funeral director who told me he bought a case of organic embalming fluid. I didn’t know whether to ask, “What?” or “Why?” first. I picture an obese man who died of a heart attack on the embalming table being injected with “organic” embalming fluid…hadn’t exercised in years…ate steak every night…like he’d care. I’m still not sure what organic means in the context of embalming fluid. Is it ok if we mistake it for our bottle of Evian? It’s just absurd.

Then I saw so much pet cremation and burial merchandise I started looking for the “National Veterinarian’s Convention” signs. May I just say, “Pets are not people.” I’m not offended that someone wants to honor their beloved pet with cremation or burial. But I cannot explain to you to what extent I saw this merchandise, it was literally everywhere. I heard two funeral directors talking about the issue and one told the other, “I took care of a woman’s husband and she spent $500 on his cremation, when her dog died, I took care of the dog and she spent $700.” I guess the husband should have spent more time “sitting” and “staying”; perhaps he would have been treated better in death. I even saw a dog casket in the shape of a bone, seriously, have you ever seen a dog in the shape of a bone? All I ask is that our human loved ones receive the same respect as our pets seem to have aspired to.

And if it wasn’t a pet cremation exhibit, it was a green burial exhibit. I’m all for green burial, but for goodness sakes the exhibitors need to stop acting like they invented something here. I would like to make a motion to nominate Moses as the rightful creator of green burial. My father (63 years old) tells stories of home burial when he was young and his uncle died in the 1960’s. This isn’t a new concept, but Al Gore would have been proud had he attended this convention.

5280 Magazine Negative Slant on the Organ Transplant System

The organ transplant system in this country is running into serious problems because like everything else, people now believe it’s their right to have a transplant. The right of entitlement is evident in the October 2008 issue of 5280 Magazine article titled, “The Crusader.”

After describing their profiler, Bob Hickey, as a bleeding heart liberal and crusader at Toronto’s first abortion clinic in 1964 (not sure what any of that had to do with the topic of organ donation); they go on to describe everything that is wrong with the organ transplant system in this country. Never mind that Bob Hickey got his kidney. He found it on-line from a donor at

There used to be something called survival of the fittest; which is admittedly a little harsh. People with terminal illness need hope. Organ donation brought hope for those people who had a genetic defect, or had overcome alcoholism. But according to the article, people should be allowed to get their kidneys wherever they want to, and should be allowed to pay for them. And the OPO’S (Organ Procurement Organizations) doing the transplants shouldn’t be charging for them because, if I can’t make money selling my kidney then they shouldn’t be able to make a profit from transplanting it. I’m not sure what’s so offensive about charging for a service. How does that logic work? Why is this service any different? Because the number of people needing kidneys and number of people receiving kidneys is so far apart. “Of the roughly 80,000 people needing kidneys each year, fewer than 17,000 will receive one (5280, Oct.08, Caudron).”

The goal of Bob Hickey is to get UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) shut down. Is there a bureaucracy within the transplant system? Of course, it’s a billion dollar a year non-profit industry. But we don’t shut down bureaucracies for one very good reason; they provide us something we need.

Although there are issues with the organ donation system in the U.S. at least we have a system that we can be critical of. At least we can advocate for ourselves or our loved one who needs an organ. Bob Hickey said that no one told him the rules of the game [organ transplant]. Life is about navigating a course and learning how to play the game, the strong will play it and the weak won’t. Perhaps that’s the full circle of survival of the fittest in organ donation. It might not be fair, but tell me something within our health care system that is.

Redefining Dead

Historically the definition of “dead” was important to make certain no one was buried alive. Today it’s important because transplant surgeons need to know when they can take your organs. A recent Washington Post article explores the difficulties of defining death. In the Death & Dying course I teach at Arapahoe Community College I ask the students to write down their definition of death on the first day of class. I save the cards and then on the last day of class ask them to write down their definition of death. Rarely does their definition remain the same. Why, because it’s not an easy thing to define. As we gain more knowledge about the subject we can’t but help morph our own definition. Our society can’t agree when a life begins, so why would it be able to agree with a death occurs?

Article author, William Saletan asks, “How can we get more organs? By redefining death.” At the Children’s Hospital in Denver hearts are taken 75 seconds after death because a heart has never self-started after 60 seconds. But the question is, are the docs are Children’s being hasty or the docs who wait two to five minutes too slow? If every second counts why wouldn’t we take the organs after 61 seconds? The key word there is self-start. Hearts have been restarted by external stimulation after several minutes. The important thing to note though is that the parents have decided that they didn’t want any type of resuscitation. Letting the family decide somewhat takes the doctor off the hook, but it can’t be easy for them either. Knowing when to give up on one patient and re-invest in another sounds like a brutal job.

Today death is what you say it is; brain death, heart death, or a persistent vegetative state. The problem is that not too far down the road we will have more medical advancements changing the definition of death yet again. Right now however, the definition of death benefits organ donation.

DORA Division of Insurance Alleges Neptune Society Used Bait and Switch

The following is a Colorado Division of Insurance Press Release dated October 3, 2008. To read a PDF of the complaint filed against the Neptune Society scroll down to the end and click on the link.

DORA’s Division of Insurance Alleges Neptune Society Used “Bait and Switch” to Lure Consumers to Purchase Pre-Need Funeral Contracts

Colorado’s Commissioner of Insurance, Marcy Morrison, has ordered representatives of the Neptune Management Corporation, d.b.a. Neptune Society (Neptune) to appear at a hearing to answer charges that the company misled consumers and manipulated prepaid, preneed funeral accounts in order to skirt Colorado law and maximize profits.

An investigation by the Division of Insurance indicated that the Neptune Society was using a “package plan” offer to entice consumers to purchase a particular pre-need funeral services contract. While state law mandates that 75 percent of a pre-need funeral services contract be held in trust to protect the consumer, the Neptune Society created a plan that allowed Neptune to keep, rather than trust, more than half of the entire plan premium.

“We will not stand for businesses that ignore consumer protection laws,” Morrison said. “Pre-need funeral plans are prime targets for scams because the service purchased is not provided until an unknown date far into the future.”

Most pre-need funeral plans require full payment at time of purchase for funeral services, such as burial or cremation, although the purchaser does not know when, in the future, the services will be used. With funeral plans and pre-paid cremation services running thousands of dollars per contract, Colorado law provided that 75 percent of any preneed plan would be held in trust. That way, should the firm close its doors, move out of state, or no longer offer the service purchased, the consumer could still have most of the money returned in order to purchase another plan.

By reducing the amount actually trusted, through a dual-contract system, Neptune has kept approximately $2.6 million of consumers’ money that should have been protected in trust.

Allegedly, Neptune Society skirted the law by inducing consumers to purchase a “package deal” and sign two contracts: one for future funeral and/or cremation services, and a separate contract for the immediate purchase of merchandise, such as a funeral urn, at grossly inflated prices. Most of the funds from the funeral services contract were held in trust, as required, but the funds from the “merchandise” contract were not trusted.

As an example:
• One contract purchaser paid a total package price of nearly $1,333.
• Of that amount, 55% of the package price (about $700) was charged for “upfront merchandise” on a separate contract.

• Rather than place three-fourths of the entire $1333 into trust as required by law, Neptune chose to place only 75 percent of the remaining $610 into trust.

• This means a customer who had paid nearly $1400 for a preneed funeral contract had less than $560 trusted.

• In addition, the “merchandise” costs were inflated with a charge of $349 for a funeral urn valued at approximately $13.

• The “bait-and-switch” is just one of several charges filed against the Neptune Society. Neptune must also answer charges related to: plan and practice to avoid compliance with preneed trusting requirements, violations of the general provider agreements, conditioning the sale of a preneed contract upon the purchase of a second contract, and, violation of several tenets of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.

With approximately 5,000 pre-paid funeral accounts in Colorado, Neptune confirmed that fully 100 percent of their customers had chosen the “package deal,” which appeared to cost less than purchasing those same items individually. However, the “package deal” allowed Neptune to put as little as 35 percent of the package price in trust, thereby avoiding trusting approximately $525 per each preneed contract. The amount that Neptune has avoided trusting is close to $2,625,000.

The “Notice to Set” scheduling conference will be held Oct. 24, 2008, at 1:30 p.m. at the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts, 633 Seventeenth Street, Suite 1300, in Denver.

At the Oct. 24 scheduling conference, Neptune Management Corporation and the Division of Insurance may agree to engage in alternative dispute resolution, or a date for a full hearing will be set.

Click here to read the court filed complaint against Neptune Society.