What is the Funeral Consumer Alliance?
We are a non-profit, non-sectarian, all volunteer organization dedicated solely to providing information on end-of-life decisions. We are affiliated with the national Funeral Consumers Alliance, which coordinates over 150 State and local groups. We were incorporated in December of 1997, and received our 50l(c)(3) status in 1998 (which means donations are tax deductible). We cover all of Connecticut, and our goal is to help our members and the general public to make informed, affordable choices in accordance with their personal beliefs.
We are not in the funeral business, we do not merchandize anything, we do not sell "pre-need" insurance, and we do not stress a particular approach. We do not use "cooperating" funeral and cremation establishments. Instead, our goal is to help members and the general public make end-or-life choices reflecting their own philosophy and purse.
We do encourage everyone to plan ahead. Although people frequently express a desire for simple, dignified services, and inexpensive disposition of the body, these requests are often forgotten or ignored. Grief, social custom, and the need to make immediate decisions without sufficient information often cause survivors to agree to arrangements that neither comfort the bereaved, nor reflect the wishes of the deceased. As a result, survivors may spend more than necessary.
FCA has forms to deal with issues including living wills, financial organization, and body, organ and tissue donation. We also have a variety of pamphlets on burial, cremation, funeral and memorial services and costs. Members receive a funeral/cremation price survey of establishments in their area, as well as newsletters and special mailings (some of our articles are available online). FCA also offers speakers on end-of-life decisions for meetings and workshops.
The End: The Death and Life of John Shields
A five and one-half page article in the NY Times by Catherine Porter describes how shortly before John Shields planned to die, he planned his own Irish wake: “old fashioned with music and booze, except for one notable detail – he would be present. Then his family would take him home and he would die there in the morning, preferably in the garden… his favorite spot, rocky and wild.”
Shields, in a Vancouver hospice, suffered from a hereditary disease that caused heart stoppages, inability to use his arms and legs, numbness and excruciating pain. He qualified for Canada’s recently enacted “medical assistance in dying”.
The law allows doctors to provide a series of injections inducing sleep, coma and total paralysis causing death to adults who meet the criteria of intolerable suffering in the final stage of an irreversible medical condition, nearing death, and mentally competent to consent just before the procedure. Some strongly oppose the law, seeing it as immoral, a slippery slope of euthanasia, and a betrayal of the Hippocratic Oath. Shield’s doctor disagreed, feeling that her work was part of a continuum of care in helping people and giving them information to let them choose how to live and die.
For Shields, who valued freedom and independence, the pain of his disease was no longer tolerable; he felt that having control over his death was empowering and that dying openly and without fear could be his most important legacy. Which, as the reporter notes “was saying something” as Shields already had five lifetimes of service as a former priest, civil rights activist, children’s social worker, president of British Columbia’s biggest union, and conservationist.
Due to Shields weakened condition, some compromises were made and both the wake and his death were at the hospice. The wake was both sad and joyous, attended by a crowd of friends and colleagues, and filled with tributes and song.
The next day, in his hospice room, filled with flowers and cedar boughs, he signed the final consent forms, led the group in singing, heard the St. Francis Prayer and loving comments of friends, and after thanking everyone, said “I am ready”. Thirteen minutes after the injections, he died, quietly, quickly, and at peace.
For the complete article by Catherine Porter, see the New York Times article of 5/28/2017 here.
Was it an Ethical Funeral Home or Cremation Service?
A Baker’s Dozen of Questions
Probably the answer is "yes"...if you can answer “yes” to these 13 questions:
1. Did you get a General Price List when you came?
2. Did you get a casket/outer burial price list before picking one?
3. Was there a casket for less than $500?
4. Were low cost caskets shown with dignity and no disparaging language? Was a grave liner presented?
5. Was the funeral home accepting and accommodating if you decided to buy a casket elsewhere? Was no illegal casketing fee added?
6. Did you get an itemized statement prior to the funeral/memorial?
7. If you chose cremation, did the price list clearly state that cremation charges and medical examiner's fees were – or were not - included?
8. If you wished to avoid embalming, were the options of cremation and direct burial presented clearly, respectfully?
9. Was there no charge for the first three days the body was at the funeral home/cremation service?
10. If there were “cash advance items”, (flowers, paid obituary) were you charged just for these services?
12. Were your wishes respected without subtle pressure for more expensive items or services?
13. Did the actual price equal the estimate?
Please let us know of your experiences with funeral and cremation services—how did they score, which were ethical, which were not, and where were the lapses? We can check and read the printed price lists, but only an actual consumer can report on the real sales practices.