Reef Balls: An "Environmental" Option for the "Hippie" Generation?

“An Eternal Reef combines a cremation urn, ash scattering, and burial at sea into one meaningful, permanent environmental tribute to life”, states the Eternal Reef’s website; one of several companies that manufacture and deliver reef balls containing human remains into the ocean. Whilst being buried at sea has never seemed like an enjoyable or desirable disposition option, these companies are making the idea seem more and more appealing. Eternal Reef describes a four-day process of “casting” the remains into the concrete reef ball, followed by a day of setting and preparing the ball, with the viewing held on day three and the placement and dedication on day four. Families and friends are highly encouraged to participate, by placing handprints and handwritten messages on the reef ball itself, and attending the dedication on a boat provided by the company (for a fee per person, of course). This industry bills itself as an environmentally-friendly option to help rebuild underwater ecosystems in coastal areas such as Florida and the Gulf. The Reef Ball Foundation is a nonprofit set up to promote and implement these artificial reefs, although they do not involve themselves in the human remains aspect of the industry. Their website shows pictures of large concrete structures with holes placed in the concrete to allow for fish and other animals to form homes within them.

Reef ball         

However, there have been debates about just how environmentally-beneficial these reef balls may be. A Hawaiian neighborhood board recently voted against supporting a reef ball project, due to statements by scientists from the University of Hawaii that there would be no benefit to the ecosystem. These reef balls may just be another way for us to feel superficially “good” about ourselves; we damaged the environment during our lifetime, but that will be okay because we will help it in death! The commercialization of philanthropy has been a growing business practice (“buy a pair of shoes from us and our company will donate a pair to a poor child”), but this is one of the first ways it has reached the death industry. This form of memorialization doesn’t come cheaply, either. The body must still be cremated first (which has serious negative environmental impacts in itself), then the reef balls can run from $3,000 to $7,500. The dedication ceremony involves serious travel expense, which the company can facilitate for an additional fee. If the environmental impacts do turn out to be as beneficial as the companies claim: fantastic. However, if they fall short, reef balls may just be another method for the death industry to play into the hands of consumers who want to be conscious, and are willing to spend a lot of money to do so.

Charley Connor

Orchestra Pit at the Met Showered with More Than Just Cheers

Spooky things usually tend to happen around Halloween. Well, for some opera fans, Halloween was certainly in the air during an afternoon performance of Rossini's "Guillaume Tell" at New York's Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, October 29, 2016.

A 52- year-old man, who was seated in the first row, decided to sprinkle a powdery substance into the orchestra pit during the second intermission. According to John Miller, the New York Police Department's deputy commissioner in charge of intelligence and counterterrorism, the man, who has now been identified and is from Dallas, told other members of the audience that he was there to sprinkle the ashes of his mentor, a fellow opera lover, during the performance. 

New-York-Metropolitan-OperaMet officials were forced to cancel the rest of the "Guillaume Tell" performance on Saturday, as well as an evening performance of "L'Italiana in Algeri," so that the police could investigate the scene. Audience members were left in the dark, having originally been told that there was a technical issue during the intermission, as the Met officials decided how to proceed once the powder substance was found. Ultimately, nearly 4,000 spectators were told to leave, but as they exited, they noticed the counterterrorism unit entering the building, which was a bit alarming for some of the opera enthusiasts. Other audience members were disappointed that they did not get to experience the final Act, especially considering the fact that this opera had not been performed at the Met in more than 80 years before this season. The Met is offering refunds to the audience members that were forced to evacuate from the performance and is supposed to be open as of Monday, October 31. 

The police are still in the process of actually testing the powder that was found in the orchestra pit to determine if the powder is in fact human remains. Miller was quoted saying that while the disposal of ashes at an opera house may violate city codes, he doesn't "believe at this point that we see any criminal intent here." The Met General Manager said that this was the first time he has seen this happen in eleven years. But, Miller said in his experience, they have seen this in many public places, including monuments, stadiums and other venues, in attempts to honor their loved ones.

For an opera lover, the chance to have their ashes sprinkled at the New York Metropolitan Opera seems like the opportunity of a lifetime, or rather the after-lifetime, but obviously this poses some public health concerns, which is why the Met does not condone the continuing of this practice, as much as they appreciate those who love their performances and art. 

Alexa Gaudioso

Texas' New Fetal Remains Rules Implicate Legal, Religious, and Cultural Tensions

Just after Thanksgiving, Texas joined Indiana in requiring aborted fetuses to be cremated or buried, regardless of gestational age. The new rule, championed by Governor Greg Abbott and promulgated by the state’s Health and Human Services Commission, bars disposal of fetal remains in sanitary landfills.

After receiving considerable pushback, the commission clarified that the rules do not apply to abortions or miscarriages that occur at home, and do not require birth or death certificates to be filed. Still, opposition to the new measures is sizeable. Activists argue that requiring burial or cremation is expensive and that such costs will necessarily be passed on to patients. As such, opponents allege, the requirements are nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to restrict women’s access to abortions statewide.

These issues are complicated, for they implicate the perilous nexus between strongly held religious and cultural beliefs, on the one hand, and the law, on the other. At what point does a fetus stop being simply a mother’s tissue and become a living thing with all the requisite rights accorded to it? And, if the fetus is not yet anything more than tissue, what control may a woman exercise over it? Unfortunately, the law provides does little to resolve these uncertainties.

The issue is further complicated in that neither human tissue nor human remains are considered property in the typical sense of the word. If not property, what are they? Can they be owned? If so, by whom? The law, again, is of little guidance. As Professor Tanya Marsh noted, “[t]he question of what we own of ourselves – what is the legal status of biological material that’s been removed from us – there’s very little law about that, except to say that it’s not ours.”

Thus, it appears as exists no definite solution to the controversy in Texas. For if there exists presently unresolved legal ambiguities, what hope is there for reconciling associated religious and cultural tensions?

Mickey Herman

Zoning Mistake at Heart of Crematory Controversy in Black Mountain, NC

Harwood Home for Funerals in Black Mountain, North Carolina has spent the past few months at the center of a controversy with some citizens of Black Mountain.  Harwood’s owner Rick Harwood wished to expand his business to offer cremation services.  To do so he planned to purchase an incineration machine and expand the footprint of his existing building to install it.  The controversy came about due to a zoning mistake that prohibited expansion of the building.  In 2010, Black Mountain rezoned Harwood’s location to central business district zoning which does not allow for a funeral home to be operated.  The director of planning and development said that while this zoning change made Harwood Home for Funerals a nonconforming use, it was likely due to a mistake of zoning. 

When Mr. Harwood applied to the planning board for a rezoning of his property so he could be in compliance with the zoning laws and expand his building, he made it known that he wished to offer cremation and that he would be installing an incineration machine.  He believes that cremation may be the chosen option for as many as 75% of his customers by 2030.  Some citizens of Black Mountain heard of this change and are worried about harmful fumes and bad odors being emitted from the building.  The machine Mr. Harwood plans on purchasing has safeguards that work to eliminate emissions while any smoke left after incineration is recirculated and purified before being released to the world outside.  The issue for Mr. Harwood is that his existing location is a 90-year-old building that cannot feasibly hold the incineration machine.  So, he needs an appropriate rezoning of just his property to a highway business district that would allow him to remodel and install the machine.  This will allow him to install the incineration machine in a manner that would minimize or eliminate any of the feared fumes or odors.

Black Mountain, like most local governments across the country, has a city planning committee that will hear requests for zoning variances or rezoning, make a determination about the requested change, and pass along their recommendation to the local legislative body who makes the ultimate decision on the issue.  The Black Mountain Planning Board voted 4-3 in favor of recommending rezoning for the funeral home and sent the matter to the Board of Alderman (the Black Mountain legislative body).  On November 7, the Board of Aldermen held a public hearing about the rezoning matter and heard the concerns of the citizens.  Many of the public comments were made in opposition to the installation of an incineration machine because of fear about toxins and fumes being released into the air.  Ultimately the board decided that this matter only came into the public eye due to the mistake in zoning and that arguments opposing the rezoning merely in opposition to the addition of a crematory were irrelevant because Mr. Harwood could install the machine in his building without rezoning and they, as the local government, could do nothing to stop him.  The Board of Alderman unanimously voted to rezone Harwood Home for Funerals to a highway business district as requested.  Had the property been properly zoned for a funeral home when the city most recently updated their zoning then Mr. Harwood would be able to expand his building and business without any approval from the city or input from the citizens.

Elliott Harry

Cremation and the Perception of Death: The Vatican States that Cremated Remains should be Stored in a “Sacred Place”

Image result for catholic cremated remains

In recent years, cremation has become increasingly popular as a means of disposing of human remains. Cheaper than burial, cremation is more accessible for lower income families. As a result of increasing popularity, there are more cremated remains (“cremains”) than ever before. The question of how cremains should be treated after cremation often leads to difficult decisions by family members. Among other things, cremains may be buried, kept by family members, scattered in a meaningful place, preserved in pieces of jewelry or other mementos, or even grown into a tree. The question of how loved one’s cremains should be treated is a deeply personal question that reflects the family’s and the deceased individual’s perception of death.

The Vatican has recently chimed in on how Catholics should treat cremated remains. In 1963, the Vatican stated that the burial of deceased bodies should be the norm, but that cremation is not per se anti-Catholic, and Catholic funeral rites should not be denied to cremated individuals.  In response, however, to the growing popularization of cremation and the creativity with which cremains have been treated, the Vatican issued a statement declaring that cremains should be kept in “sacred place,” such as a church or cemetery. Treatment of cremains in other ways, such as incorporating the cremains into jewelry or scattering the cremains, is sacrilegious. This statement is a reflection of the Vatican’s dissatisfaction with changing views on the perception of death. In essence, the Vatican feels that the manner in which cremains are often treated in modern society reflect secular notions of death or other “New Age” perceptions of rebirth.   The new guidelines promulgated by the Vatican state “[b]y burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body, and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity.” As a result, individuals wishing to conform to Vatican guidelines must have special permission from a bishop to keep the cremains of a loved one at home.

The Vatican’s stance on the treatment of cremains reflects the shifting views related to the connection between the treatment of human remains and personal perceptions of the meaning of death.

Maria Collins

Why should time with your pets be limited to your life? In New York, your time can now be FURever

As a pet owner and an animal lover, I have come to know that over their short lifetime, pets become a member of your family. When a pet dies, even if your family later decides to adopt a new pet, the void is never truly filled from your beloved friend. Approximately 62% of American households own a pet, so this grieving process is fairly widespread. People grieve the loss of their pets in many ways and have turned to various methods of memorializing them postmortem. Many people decide to cremate their pets after they have passed, keeping the ashes nearby in their home, but the question has remained as to what to do with the pets' cremains when the owner eventually passes.

072315_PlaqueMaker_NewItems_cat-granite-headstone-1On September 26, 2016, Governor Cuomo helped to answer this question by signing legislation that allows New Yorkers to be buried with their pets' cremains in not-for-profit cemeteries. The new bill (S.2582/A.2647) allows pet owners the option to have their domestic pets' cremains buried with them, so long as they obtain the cemetery's written consent, but this legislation does not apply to cemeteries owned and operated by religious associations and societies. The interment of the pet cremains needs to be incidental to the burial of the human remains; they can be placed in a niche, crypt or a grave with their human. Not-for-profit cemeteries now will need to provide customers with an itemized list of charges pertaining to their pet's burial and any payments that are made for the pet interment are to be deposited into the permanent maintenance fund of the cemetery. 

This new legislation does not come without a lot of mixed emotions from New Yorkers. While animals cannot be buried by themselves in the human cemetery, many people do not like the idea that animals can now be buried in a plot next to where their loved one is at their final resting place. Other people are concerned with the cost that can be attributed to the addition of the pet, since the price of a burial is expensive as it is. Ultimately, there has been overwhelming support for this legislation considering that people now feel, as pet owners and lovers, their final wishes can be honored.

Alexa Gaudioso

Arizona Pretends to Reduce but Instead Significantly Raises Barriers to Entry for Cremationists

Arizona House Bill 2613,  approved by the House Commerce Committee last week, proposes to eliminate state licensing requirements for occupations such as fruit packers. Yes, you read that correctly. Under current Arizona law, you may not pack citrus fruit without a license from the state, which will cost you $200 per year. Packing citrus fruit without a license will earn you a $500 fine. HB2613 also removes questionable licensing requirements for occupations including yoga instructor, landscape architect, and geologist. The bill is consistent with one of Republican Governor Doug Ducey’s top priorities—to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses and consumers. One of Governor Ducey’s policy advisors explained that “[occupational] licensing should be the last option, not the first. … reducing regulations means more money for hardworking Arizonans.”

That sounds great, but HB2613 doesn’t uniformly reduce barriers to entry. In at least one case, it significantly raises them. For at least 300 hardworking cremationists in Arizona, this regulation “reduction” will mean far less money because they will suddenly become unqualified to do their job. Under current Arizona law, only a person licensed as a cremationist can operate a crematory retort and perform the cremation of human remains. HB2613 eliminates the cremationist license, but not the requirement that a licensed person operate a crematory retort and perform cremations—it grants the ability to perform those tasks to another licensed group: funeral directors. HB2613 does so by redefining “funeral directing” to include “operating a crematory retort and performing the actual cremation of human remains.” Arizona law already provides that no one may perform “funeral directing” without a funeral director’s license.

Under current Arizona law, in order to receive a cremationist license, a person must complete a crematory operator’s certificate course, submit a fingerprint card for a background check, have a good moral character, and pay an annual fee of $85 to the Arizona Board of Funeral Directors & Embalmers.  

To become a licensed funeral director in Arizona, an applicant must pass the funeral service arts section of the national board examination or the state equivalent examination, pass an examination on funeral director state laws and rules, be of good moral character, pay an annual fee of $85 to the Board and, oh yes, have held an active license as an embalmer for at least one year and have assisted in arranging and directing at least 25 funerals.

To become a licensed embalmer in Arizona, an applicant must pass the funeral service science section of the national board examination or the state equivalent examination, pass an examination on embalmer state laws, have been licensed as an intern for at least one year, have successfully completed an internship program that included assisting in the embalming of at least 25 human bodies, and pay an annual fee of $85 to the Board.

To become a licensed intern in Arizona, an applicant must be a high school graduate, be a graduate of an accredited school of mortuary science, be of good moral character, and pay an annual fee of $85 to the Board.

So, to recap, HB2613, which is designed to implement Governor Ducey’s plan to reduce needless occupational licensing in the State of Arizona, proposes to replace the requirement that people who operate the crematory retort must first take a course on crematory operations with a requirement that people who operate a crematory retort must: (1) graduate from a two-year mortuary school program, (2) complete a one year internship where they must embalm at least 25 bodies, (3) pass the national board examination in funeral service arts and funeral service science, (4) pass two examinations on the laws that apply to funeral directors and embalmers, (5) work as a licensed embalmer for at least one year, and (6) assist in arranging and directing at least 25 funerals. Oh, and we can’t forget that they must continue to pay an annual fee of $85 to the Board.

Unfortunately, Arizona is not alone in its overly aggressive approach to occupational regulation. Nearly 1/3 of U.S. workers must obtain a license from the state to engage in their occupation. In 1950, less than 1/20 of U.S. workers needed a license. It has been estimated that over 1,100 occupations are licensed in at least one state, but fewer than 60 are regulated in all 50 states—clearly the states disagree quite a bit on what occupations require licensing and which do not. It is easy to understand why states may use occupational licensing to protect the public from unqualified doctors and lawyers, but it is a bit harder to understand how state legislatures rationalize requiring a license for hair braiders and florists.

Critics across the ideological spectrum argue that occupational licensing regimes do little to protect consumers from incompetent practitioners and instead raise costs for consumers by stifling competition and imposing barriers to entry. In July 2015, the White House issued a report prepared by the Department of Treasury Office of Economic Policy, the Council of Economic Advisers, and the Department of Labor calling for state policymakers to adopt a more “tailored approach” to occupational regulation. For example, the report recommends that states target occupational regulations to closely tie the substantive requirements (like education and experience) with public health and safety concerns. The Institute for Justice has found that occupational licensing regimes “can pose substantial barriers” for those seeking even low and moderate income jobs, particularly for “minorities, those of lesser means and those with less education.” Cremationist seems like a prime example of this phenomenon. Under the guise of reducing regulation, Arizona has transformed a fairly low paying occupation with low barriers to entry into a job that requires a significant investment of time and money to acquire. It is unclear how requiring cremationists to master the art of embalming and graduate from mortuary college (which typically includes no training on operating a crematory retort) protects Arizonans.

Arizona’s cremation rate is among the highest in the country—approximately 70%. Cremation is an attractive option for many people because it is lower in cost and perceived to be more environmentally friendly. Many crematories in Arizona are independent of funeral homes and not owned or managed by funeral directors. (Economists have shown that independent crematories typically charge less than crematories run by funeral directors.) If HB2613 passes in its current form, the future of the independent crematories is uncertain. Governor Ducey’s first official action in January 2015 was to implement a moratorium on new regulatory rulemaking by state agencies. His office’s press release promised that “Governor Ducey’s order will promote and propel job growth by preventing burdensome, antiquated and unnecessary government rules and regulations on private sector employers.” I’m sure that’ll make the soon-to-be-unemployed Arizonan cremationists feel much better.

Tanya D. Marsh