Books

Funeral and Cemetery Law: A Suggested Reading List

If you're interested in learning more about funeral and cemetery law (and the modern industry), you could of course start with my books:

But there are a variety of other essential books that you should check out.

Lisa Carlson and Josh Slocum, Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death (2011). A very user-friendly examination of the laws impacting the rights of decedents and their families to control the disposition of human remains.

Caitlin Doughty, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory (2014).  An engaging insider's look at the modern funeral industry by a California funeral director who isn't afraid to challenge the status quo.

T. Scott Gilligan and Thomas F.H. Stueve, Mortuary Law (10th ed. 2003). The textbook used by mortuary colleges.
Mark Harris, Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial (2008). Recognizing the growing interest in "green" alternatives to the consumptive American way of death, Harris demystifies the options and challenges.

Percival Jackson, The Law of Cadavers and of Burial and Burial Places (1950). Out of print, copies are expensive but worth it.

Gary Laderman, Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America (2005). A nice balance to the critiques by Doughty and Mitford of the modern funeral industry.

Gary Laderman, The Sacred Remains: American Attitudes Toward Death, 1799-1883 (1996). A solid history of the development of the funeral services industry in the United States.

Thomas Lynch, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (2009). A lyrical and honest examination of the life of a modern funeral director.

Jessica Mitford, The American Way of Death Revisited (2000). The sharp, funny, and flawed classic critique of the American funeral industry.

David Charles Sloane, The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History (1991). The definitive history of cemeteries in the United States.

Marilyn Yalom, The American Resting Place: 400 Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds (2008). Beautiful photographs of a variety of cemeteries in the United States.

What books would you include in this list?

Tanya Marsh


Just Published: Cemetery Law: The Common Law of Burying Grounds in the United States

From Wake Forest University School of Law:

Most recent graduates take a breather after they finish the bar exam. Daniel Gibson (JD ’15) went to work finishing up a book instead. “Cemetery Law: The Common Law of Burying Grounds in the United States” was published on Monday, Aug. 24, 2015.

Gibson worked with Marsh during law school as her research assistant for more than two years, helping her conceptualize and organize the materials for her first “Funeral and Cemetery Law” course in Spring 2014 and her treatise “The Law of Human Remains”  published in early August.

For “Cemetery Law,” Marsh and Gibson teamed up to collect, annotate, organize and explain materials about the history and structure of the law of cemeteries in the United States.“Daniel and I had collected an enormous amount of materials that had yet to be curated or analyzed,” Marsh explained, “and one day we just thought—why not publish them?”

Continue reading "Just Published: Cemetery Law: The Common Law of Burying Grounds in the United States" »


Just Published: The Law of Human Remains

“Death is sometimes tragic, sometimes a blessing—always inevitable. Death transforms a living human being, a person with rights and autonomy, into … something else. Tissue and bone, once animated by life, converted into an object of fear, a focus for grief, and a medical and scientific resource.”

“The Law of Human Remains”

A human cadaver is no longer a person, but neither is it an object to be easily discarded. As a result of this tenuous legal status, human remains occupy an uneasy position in U.S. law. Perhaps because of what anthropologist Ernest Becker called our “universal fear of death,” the law of human remains occupies a remarkably unexamined niche of U.S. law.

In her new book, “The Law of Human Remains,” Professor Tanya D. Marsh undertakes the ambitious task of collecting, organizing and stating the legal rules and principles regarding the status, treatment and disposition of human remains in the United States.  The most recent comprehensive overview of the law was published in 1950. The Law of Human Remains builds on that work by creating detailed summaries of each individual state’s laws and regulations. This unprecedented resource allows readers to quickly identify the often fascinating differences that exist between states.

“Over the course of two years, this project required me to literally read every statute and regulation regarding the law of human remains in the United States,” Marsh said.

Continue reading "Just Published: The Law of Human Remains" »


A Book Bound in Human Skin

Harvard University reports that it has a book published in the 1880s which is bound in human skin.  Strange?  Absolutely.  Illegal?  Possibly. 

Massachusetts General Law 272 section 72 states that:

Whoever buys or sells, or has in his possession for the purpose of buying, selling or trafficking in, the dead body of a human being shall be punished by a fine of not less than fifty nor more than one thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not less than three months nor more than two and one half years.

Is the skin of a person who has been deceased for 140 years a "dead body of a human being?"  The statute has been a part of Massachusetts law since 1855, but there are no reported appellate cases which interpret it.

Tanya Marsh