New Jersey

Food as comfort: N.J. bill would end ban on refreshments at funeral homes

Would you like a coffee to go with your peppermint? Mourners in New Jersey will finally be able to enjoy food and other refreshments from the comfort of their local funeral homes. For decades, New Jersey funeral homes have been legally prevented from serving food and drink in funeral establishments. Sponsored by Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D., Middlesex), the pending legislation will lift the ban and leave Pennsylvania as the only state prohibiting refreshments in funeral homes.

The purpose behind the bill is to provide additional comfort to mourners attending viewings, wakes, or funerals at a funeral home. As the deputy director of the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association, Adam Guziejewski fully backs the legislation. Apparently, many funeral organizers and mourners in New Jersey have requested food or drink at such events, and Guziejewski has previously had to turn them away.

The law banning hors d’oeuvre in funeral homes in New Jersey was presumably enacted to protect the public health and keep food away from embalmed bodies. But the coming change signifies a move away from seeing bodies as unclean. In keeping with increasingly modern views on death, New Jersey mourners and the legislature need not fear cross-contamination between a dead body and any foodstuffs. Since 48 other states have enacted laws that allow food in funeral homes, New Jersey’s law should not cause any huge problems for funeral directors and mourners alike.

New Jersey, although late to the party, is not in bad company. New York and Massachusetts recently lifted bans disallowing food in funeral homes. In many funeral homes throughout the country, receptions or wakes are held in separate rooms from both the viewing room and the embalming room. New York's old-school opponents to serving food in funeral homes fear crumbs, losing business to event spaces, and lack of dignity for the dead. However, in other cultures, food is an integral part of providing comfort and feeding crowds of mourners. At the end of the day, New Jersey is overturning a ban that was perpetuated by naysayers. In practice, fears of crumbs and contamination of food by bodies are just that: fears.

Amelia Lowe

Does the Law Limit What You Can Do with Human Remains? Yes! Understanding Abuse of Corpse Laws

Although we haven't discussed abuse of corpse statutes in Funeral and Cemetery Law yet this semester, this week five students have written posts about the treatment of human remains and analyze whether that constitutes abuse of corpse in various states.

Section 250.10 of the Model Penal Code is entitled "Abuse of Corpse."  It provides that "[e]xcept as authorized by law, a person who treats a corpse in a way that he knows would outrage ordinary family sensibilities commits a misdemeanor."  About a dozen states follow the Model Penal Code approach, but more states have more detailed statutes. Sometimes, but surprisingly, not always, abuse of corpse statutes specifically reference and prohibit necrophilia.

Brittany Colton discusses the unauthorized removal of the corpse of Julie Mott from a Texas funeral home in August and concludes that the removal violates Texas Penal Code § 42.08(a) which is triggered if a person "carries away, or treats in an offensive manner a human corpse."

Sabrina Huffman examines the discovery of 11 decomposing bodies in a Toledo, Ohio funeral home and the decision to charge the funeral director, Robert Tate, with abuse of corpse under Ohio Revised Code 2927.01. Unlike the Texas statute, Ohio follows the Model Penal Code approach to abuse of corpse, which simply refers to treatment that would "outrage reasonable community sensibilities" or "reasonable family sensibilities."

Katie McAbee discusses the same Ohio statute, this time in the context of an Ohio man who murdered his girlfriend and then stashed her remains in a closet before interring her in a shallow grave. McAbee and Huffman both refer to Ohio court decisions that conclude that the Ohio statute is not unconstitutionally vague, but McAbee questions those holdings and advocates for Ohio to abandon the Model Penal Code approach and adopt a more concrete statute like New Jersey's, which is triggered if a person "unlawfully disturbs, moves, or conceals human remains."

Katie Ott also discusses the Ohio abuse of corpse statute (seriously, what's going on in Ohio??) in the context of a funeral home which misplaced a body and then displayed the wrong set of remains at a viewing. The family has sued and Ott asks whether the funeral home's actions also violate the abuse of corpse statute.

Finally, Shawn Briggs-Seward illustrates how difficult it may be to determine "reasonable" community or family sensibilities as she examines two reported cases involving the cremated remains (cremains) of Keith Richards' father and Tupac Shakur. These cases are particularly interesting because they both death with cremains, not intact human remains. Briggs-Seward asks whether abuse of corpse statutes should apply in such cases.

These five blog posts demonstrate the continuing relevance of the little-known abuse of corpse statutes in American law. They also demonstrate the uncertainty regarding the application and enforcement of these statutes. All of the different formulations of the crime speak to the same idea—human remains should be treated with respect. But states vary significantly in terms of what that means.

Tanya Marsh

A Grave Injustice to Religious and Economic Liberty in New Jersey

Since the Third Century, Christians have primarily buried their dead in churchyards and cemeteries owned by the parish or church that they attended. The Roman Catholic Church has therefore been in the “cemetery business” for over 1700 years. In England, the legal system from which our own was derived, the Church of England had exclusive “ecclesiastical cognizance” over the dead. That means that the Church had the legal authority to determine who was eligible to be buried in consecrated ground owned by the Church and to make rules regarding interments and memorialization.  The Church had such wide latitude over the dead for an important theological reason—the Church acted as the guardians of human remains until the resurrection. Belief in the resurrection of the dead is a key Christian doctrine. In 1 Corinthians 15 it says:

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen.

14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching in vain, and your faith is also in vain.

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