Disaster in Haiti - How to Help & What Funeral Directors Should Know

Watching the news for the past few days it’s easy to get compassion fatigue seeing all of the videos of the suffering, devastation, and loss in Haiti. To say our minds can’t comprehend the situation is an understatement. Our sympathies and hearts go out to all those affected. There’s no doubt everyone wants to help, but how? The news channels are almost scaring people into not helping due to all of the scams that are already arising from this situation.

Here are some safe ways to make a donation for those who can help financially:

The American Red Cross. You can donate $10 by texting Haiti to 90999. The $10 charge will appear on your cell phone bill. Their website link is www.redcross.org, or click on the icon below. They are not accepting volunteers to travel to the county.

Doctors Without Borders. They are in dire need of money for medicine and medical supplies. They also need medically trained volunteers. www.doctorswithoutborders.com or click on the icon below.

Compassion International. Compassion has been working in Haiti for more than 40 years and is partnered with 230 churches helping more than 65,000 children and their families.

The Compassion website has provided a breakdown of where your donations will go:

You can provide immediate relief today. www.compassion.com or click on the picture below.

$35 helps provide a relief pack filled with enough food and water to sustain a family for one week.

$70 gift helps care for their needs for two weeks.

$105 helps provide relief packs filled with enough food and water to sustain two families for two weeks.

$210 gift helps care for two families' needs.

$525 helps provide relief packs filled with enough food and water to sustain 10 families for two weeks.

$1,050 gift helps care for 10 families' needs.

$1,500 helps rebuild a home.

$2,100 helps supply 20 families with the basics for three weeks.

If you can’t help financially, please keep these families and those traveling to Haiti to help in your thoughts and prayers.

From a press release from the National Funeral Directors Association sent out this morning (1-14-10):

NFDA members interested in volunteering in Haiti should call the association at 800-228-6332 (262-789-1880). NFDA staff is collecting members’ contact information in order to keep interested parties abreast of ways they might be able to assist the federal government and funeral service professionals in Haiti, should their service prove necessary. If you contact NFDA, please indicate if you hold a valid passport and how long you are willing to serve, as well as an email address or cell phone number to assist in rapid communication. Members should not travel to the affected areas on their own as conditions are severe; participating in a coordinated effort will make for an effective response to the needs of the Haitian people.
In addition, funeral directors should not contact Haitian funeral directors about shipping bodies once communication is restored. Haitian funeral directors in the affected areas have their own struggles now, and cannot accept bodies at this time.


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 at Children’s being hasty, or are 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.

Cremation Mercury Issue Not Going Away in Minnesota

I’ve written several blogs on mercury being released during cremation from dental amalgams. I’ve made no apologies for my position on supporting decedent rights on the issue that they should not have to endure the pulling of their teeth after their final suffering. I understand that they are dead and it won’t hurt. However, my overall opposition comes back to the lack of evidence that this is a legitimate problem worth compromising the dignity of a corpse in a matter that their teeth would pulled out of their mouth. It just seems barbaric to me that we would do this knowing that our current statistics show that all the crematories in the United States make up less than 1% of mercury emissions. I recently spoke to an environmentalist knowledgeable about this topic and he can’t understand why this is even an issue. He stated that environmentalists have much bigger worries than this.

This issue is expected to once again hit the legislative capitol in Minnesota. For the past 5 years, Senator John Marty (D) continues to introduce one form or another of a bill proposing the removal of mercury from human bodies before cremation. Colorado has term limits so I thought, wait a year, he’ll term out and then someone else will have to pick up the cause. Then I learned that Minnesota doesn’t have term limits and Senator Marty is in his 7th term. The conclusion… this issue is not going away and the Minnesota funeral directors will have to deal with it.

Subsequently, the Minnesota Funeral Directors are now looking at ways to be part of the solution, not part of problem. This may mean they will not fight the bill this session, but may in fact help sculpt it so that they can live with whatever bill may (or may not) be passed. What a quandary for any profession to be in. Darned if you do, darned if you don’t.

Here’s a copy of the bill as it was written and introduced in last Legislative Session. End of Life Insights will follow any new bill on the subject that may be introduced, and keep you informed.

I just hope that when people ask me, “Isn’t it true that Colorado is the only State in the Country that doesn’t have licensure?” I don’t have to respond, “Yes, and Minnesota is the only State that pulls teeth.”

The Olympic Spirit

As a person who normally goes to bed between 8:30 and 9:30 pm, the Olympic schedule is taking its toll on my sleeping patterns. Every morning I walk the halls of the college needing toothpicks in my eyes as I look for my co-workers who are as big of fans of the Olympics as I am. I usually start the conversation with, “Did you see……last night?” Part of me hopes that they did so we can revel in the memory together, and the other part hopes they didn’t so I can describe in second by second details how exciting it was to watch history being made. One of things I really enjoy about the Olympics is the athlete profile stories that are shown just a few minutes before the competition begins. It’s amazing how many of them mention a loved one who has died in their list of inspirations.

The announcers are still reciting their recollection of Misty may-Treanor, beach volleyball sensation, scattering her mother’s cremated remains in the sand court in Athens four years ago. The rumor is she has scattered another vile in the sand in China. I guess that’s one way to see the world, albeit you don’t know it and aren’t enjoying it.

Then there’s the amazing story of Track & Field athlete Lopez Lomong. He escaped death in Sudan as a child, but his parents thought he had died even though they never found a body. They erected a grave site where they could go to mourn him, only to find out years later that he had survived.

And other headlines read , “US Team Plays for Grieving Coach” , “Hungarian Canoeing Champion Dies at 36” , and Hope Solo, Olympic Soccer player talks about her father’s death and how she never really dealt with it.

It’s amazing how the living seek the approval of the dead. Just because a loved one is lost it doesn’t mean that they lose their hero status with us, we still wonder if they know what is happening in our lives, and if are they proud. I’m reminded of the movie “The Sixth Sense” near the end where the mother knows her little boy sees dead people. He tells her, “Grandma told me the answer to your question is, “Every day.” He said, “What did you want to know, Mom?” Crying and barely able to speak she said, “Is she proud of me?”

Is Nothing Sacred Anymore

The short answer to the question, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” is a sad, “No.” Not even our dead are sacred.

In the 1800’s doctors and anatomists stole bodies from graves to learn more about the human body and diseases. Today, most States have a regulated Anatomical Board to receive bodies which have been donated to science, so thankfully we don’t hear about old fashioned body snatching anymore. But that might in part because the thing of perceived value isn’t buried; it’s above ground, decorating the grave of the deceased.

I’ve seen multiple news stories lately about the number of people stealing bronze markers and flower vases and selling it as scrap metal. I don’t know who is worse, the person who does the stealing, or the scrap recycling centers that are actually paying the thieves! If a bronze vase only brings about $10 then one would have to steal a lot of vases to even buy a tank of gas. This is not worth it on so many levels. There’s no money, it’s disrespecting the dead, it’s disrespecting the living, and it’s a crime!

In March there was a documented theft of 40 bronze vases in a Wisconsin cemetery. And in June the States of Illinois, West Virginia, Florida, Arizona, Maryland, Michigan, and North Carolina all had vases or markers stolen from one or more of their cemeteries.

Illinois and Missouri have recently passed laws to help stop this crime of stealing bronze and brass vases and markers. Scrap metal dealers are now required to keep detailed paperwork and even get a copy of a photo ID for people who aren’t regular customers. You can click here to see an example of modern grave robbing, sent to me by a reader of the End of Life Insights Monthly Newsletter.

We have been on a slippery slope of disrespecting our dead for a long time now. People don’t pull over when a funeral hearse (also known as a Coach) goes by. People don’t respect the police escorts hired to stop the traffic light for the funeral procession. We are increasingly burning our dead with instructions to the funeral director to, “please dispose of the ashes for us.” Now people are stealing from graves to make a quick buck; literally, it’s not much more than that! What’s next? I cringe to think of possibilities. When the mentality of respecting the dead is that of a burden rather than a privilege, anything can happen.

Organ Transplant in Britain - You Must Opt Out Instead of Opting In

In the United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown has gone on record as supporting hospitals to take organs for transplant without the patient’s prior consent.

Only about 24% of the UK population has opted in to the program to donate their organs after death. So, Brown backs moving to a system of "presumed consent" whereby a dead person's organs would automatically be available for transplant unless individuals had opted out of the national register or family members objected.

Are you kidding me?!?
While they’re at it, they may as well set it up so that everyone’s life support is pulled after 24 hours, unless you opt out, and ask for 48!

Opting out generally applies to something that is an annoyance to us and we want to get rid of. We opt “out” of receiving emails from companies whose products we buy. We opt “out” of receiving phone calls from telemarketers. We don’t opt out of organ donation, we opt in.

To take a decision that is as personal and private as choosing organ donation and minimizing it to the point of saying the government has a right to your dead body is just plain wrong. This is the current set up in Spain, although they claim that they ask for prior permission before taking any organs; however, they can legally take your organs without any prior permission from you or your family members. I remember a story, years ago from Spain, when a little boy died in a car accident while on vacation from the U.S. with his family. His organs were taken without the families consent. The family was devastated when they learned what had happened.

Thank goodness we live in a country where (with a few exceptions) we can decide what happens to us when we are alive… and dead.

Tips on Saving Gas -- And Your Gas Money

Here in Denver, we are paying over $4 a gallon now, so I thought I would share a few tips of saving gas that were recently forwarded to me. I know a lot of you are paying even more. And while this may be off-topic for this blog, it’s a situation that is affecting us all -- metaphorically, we’re all dying at the pump these days...

I have heard a lot of these before but never knew the reasons behind them. I adapted this list from an unnamed worker for Kinder Morgan Pipeline in San Jose, CA.

• Only buy or fill up your car or truck in the early morning when the ground temperature is still cold.
Remember that all service stations have their storage tanks buried below ground. The colder the ground the more dense the gasoline, when it gets warmer gasoline expands, so buying in the afternoon or in the evening....your gallon is not exactly a gallon. In the petroleum business, the specific gravity and the
temperature of the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, ethanol and other petroleum products plays an important role.

A 1-degree rise in temperature is a big deal for this business. But the service stations do not have temperature compensation at the pumps.

• When you're filling up do not squeeze the trigger of the nozzle to a fast mode. If you look you will see
that the trigger has three (3) stages: low, middle, and high. In slow mode you should be pumping on low speed, thereby minimizing the vapors that are created while you are pumping. All hoses at the pump have a vapor return. If you are pumping on the fast rate, some other liquid that goes to your tank becomes vapor. Those vapors are being sucked up and back into the underground storage tank so you're getting less worth for your money.

• One of the most important tips is to fill up when your gas tank is HALF FULL or HALF EMPTY. The reason is, the more gas you have in your tank the less air occupying its empty space. Gasoline evaporates faster than you can imagine. Gasoline storage tanks have an internal floating roof. This roof serves a zero clearance between the gas and the atmosphere, so it minimizes the evaporation. Unlike service stations, here where I work, every truck that we load is temperature compensated so that every gallon is actually the exact amount.

• Another reminder, if there is a gasoline truck pumping into the storage tanks when you stop to buy gas, DO NOT fill up--most likely the gasoline is being stirred up as the gas is being delivered, and you might pick up some of the dirt that normally settles on the bottom.

• Here are some large companies that do not import Middle Eastern oil:
‣ Sunoco
‣ Conoco
‣ Sinclair
‣ BP/Phillips
‣ Hess

All of this information is available from the Department of Energy as each is required to state where they get their oil and how much they are importing.

The Helpful-But-Sometimes Goofy AARP Strikes Again

I often make fun of AARP in my blog. I don’t think that they are inherently evil or anything, they just seem to be off the mark so often. If I had to compare them to a Disney character I would pick Goofy, he’s certainly likable, light-hearted, funny, loyal, and has the best of intentions, but often while trying to help, makes a bigger mess of things.

A recent AARP Bulletin proves my point, again. They published their results of a poll taken where people were asked if they had heard about certain preplanning topics and whether or not they had completed them. I’m not a statistician by any stretch of the imagination, but really, anyone can see how ridiculous this poll was. AARP boasts over 36 million members aged over 50. The poll however asked only 1,013 adults aged 35 and older these questions? How odd. Then they only reported the answers for the people aged 50-59, and then 60+. They asked about the following:

• Durable power of attorney for health care

• Living Will

• Organ/tissue donation form

• Funeral arrangements or burial pre-plans

• Trust or last will and testament

They asked people if they had completed, not completed, or not heard about the above topics. In all 5 categories, the percentage of “not heard about” topics was higher for the over 60 crowd. Huh? So the older you are the less likely you are to have heard about these topics? That doesn’t make sense. Two of the categories didn’t even equal 100%. What? Who proofed this data? The number of people not having heard about the topics was just alarming, from 3% to 10%. Who are these people and where do they live? Who hasn’t heard of a will? They must have asked the respondents these questions at Disney World after they had just exited Space Mountain.

AARP may do a lot of good things for the seniors in our country, but some of the things they publish are just plain goofy.

How a Bill Becomes a Law in Colorado

Regarding HB 1123, I have received several emails, and have had numerous conversations with end of life professionals on how a bill actually becomes law in Colorado. Right now the bill is stuck waiting for the second reading on the House floor. Here’s how it got that far:

1. The bill was read by the House Clerk on the floor of the House of Representatives.

2. The Speaker of the House assigned the bill to the House Business Labor and Affairs Committee, which voted in favor the bill moving it the next step.

3. Since HB 1123 has a fiscal note attached the House Appropriations Committee had to review the bill. The first vote ended in a tie, but the second vote passed the bill.

4. Now the bill is waiting for the next step, which is second reading on the House floor. The entire House can debate and still make amendments to the bill. During second reading the vote is a voice vote, that means when asked, “All in favor”, or “All opposed” which ever group has a louder voice either keeps the bill moving forward toward third reading, or kills the bill on second reading.

5. If the bill goes to third reading, that is when an official recorded vote is taken, and the bill either dies in the House, or passes and moves to the Senate.

The bill has been postponed every day for over a week now. What’s happening is that as the Legislature prepares to begin debate on the Long Bill, the number of other bills is really piling up, in other words, there’s a log jam at the Capitol. The Long Bill is the bill that deals with the budget and takes a large amount of time for the legislatures to debate and pass, therefore most bill sponsors want to get their bill heard before the Long Bill begins. That creates a huge back-up.

This morning it was announced on the floor of the House that all of the second reading of the bills would indeed be read through tomorrow (Wednesday, March 26, 2008) and I quote, “if it takes until Thursday to get it done.” The Representatives were instructed to bring snacks and dinner would be ordered if necessary to get through the large stack of bills before them.

Click here to get a copy of the State’s official PDF of how a bill becomes law (which is pictured above). Picking up with number 5 above, if the bill passes the House, then it will be moved to the Senate, at which time it will be read, assigned a committee, and a very similar process begins again, only in the Senate. If the bill passes the House and the Senate then it becomes law, provided that the Governor signs it immediately.

However, if the Governor doesn’t sign it within 30 during days during regular session, or within 10 days after the session recesses the bill will not become law, and the whole process must start over.

The Governor can also veto a bill if it hasn’t met the 2/3 passing majority in both the House and Senate, which is what happened to the funeral licensure bill 2 years ago.

Martha Thayer Interviewed on Denver News

shapeimage_2-39 Martha-on-News2
Martha L. Thayer, founder of End of Life Insights, has just appeared on Denver’s Channel 7 News. She was interviewed regarding some of the problems with Colorado’s Funeral Service Industry.

In particular, she is an expert witness in a current legal case, where a man claims to have not been given his mother’s ashes by a Denver crematorium:

-- Click Here to Read the Story --
-- Click Here to Watch the News Coverage --