Pennsylvania Deprives Consumers of 21st Century Services

traditiondemotivatorThe Regressive Elements in Pennsylvania have apparently won a victory…or have they?

Last week’s Circuit Court Reversal regarding the Pennsylvania Funeral Licensing Law probably caused some champagne corks to fly in Harrisburg. But this “victory” begets the question: “What Have We Done To Ourselves?” Funeral Service’ legacy of “circling the wagons and shooting inward” is about to bite us big time and we keep fighting old battles while the world passes us by. I hesitated to write this opinion but then concluded that it is not only my fight but everyone’s, regardless of state, who views this business as a true profession.

When my mother died in Bennington, Vt at 92 I knew, as an insider, that an hours visitation prior to the service wouldn’t work and circumstances did not make a full visitation the night before possible. So, I persuaded the funeral director (who had never done such a thing) to let me rent his visitation rooms and hold a two hour reception following the funeral. IT WAS PERFECT FOR EVERYONE. Especially for the immediate family who got to interact with everyone in an intimate and informal setting.

Had my mother died 7 miles to the West in New York State their archaic laws would have forced me to find a venue that would not have been as convenient. I probably would have opted for a sit down lunch which would not have been as laid back or intimate. We would have lost some of the attendees on the way to the restaurant. All-in-all it would have been a comparative mess and significantly greater inconvenience.  We would not have been served as well. Not to mention that the funeral director would have been DEPRIVED OF THE ADDITIONAL REVENUE.


There is a debate going on in funeral service about whether or not we are a profession and the court’s decision casts some interesting light on the answer. Those that think we are not a profession believe that requiring a four year degree will solve the issue. Until now I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it. After all, the public already views us as professionals and many of us conduct ourselves as a professional would be expected to behave. I looked Professional up in the Oxford Dictionary and it doesn’t say anything about a degree of any kind:

A Profession is:

  • A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification

  • A body of people engaged in a particular profession

Check and check! But this victory for the regressive element gives me pause. So, I looked up the word Guild and to my amazement and amusement this is what I found:

A guild is:

  • a medieval association of craftsmen or merchants, often having considerable power.

I don’t know. Just sayin’…If the shoe fits…

Guilds died out more than a century ago. It seems to me that somewhere in Pennsylvania there is a typo. So, for the record it is the 21st century not the 11th. Or maybe the Amish have more influence than I thought. Let’s do away with motorized hearses and embalming machines while we are at.


Frankly, I don’t think the constitution addresses such things as:

  • Simply because [a law] is antiquated is not a reason for overturning it
  • The constitution does not protect against inefficient, wasteful or meaningless legislation (We all knew that…didn’t we?)
  • Nor does it protect against laws that are archaic
  • The constitution is not a lever we can use to overcome legislation… [I wish whoever wrote that were on the U.S. Supreme Court]

Antiquated, archaic, inefficient, meaningless! No, this should never have gotten to court. It should have been championed by the PROFESSION. Those archaic laws that once served as a barrier to entry are quickly becoming a barrier to survival.


Yes, a battle has been won! But the victors have simply condemned their sons and daughters to a career of rapidly declining consumer relevance and a future of economic instability. Cremation will soon pass 50%. For the past 10 years cremation has been growing at a compound rate exceeding 4% which is expected to bring this trend within view of 70% by the end of this decade. Just how meaningful is a license to embalm when only 30% of your customers are even interested in that option? But… hey… it’s your future. Can you say anachronism?

Antiquated…Archaic…Inefficient…meaningless. I don’t know about you, this is not praise but condemnation. The court didn’t believe it was a constitutional issue but they didn’t miss the real issue.

Obviously, I am angry and disappointed. I should have waited to comment when I was calmer. But then I wouldn’t have said what I really think.

Here’s the question: Are we a profession or a guild? Pennsylvania has their answer. What about you?

Yours in disappointment,

my signature





An apology is in order…from me and from you.

Ernie Heffner and his group have led this campaign from the beginning. They have devoted their personal time and their own money. I have stood on the sidelines giving an occasional cheer. No more than that. Many did the same. We thought the contest eminently winnable. I apologize that I didn’t do more. Thank you, Ernie and friends, for fighting a noble cause.



  1. Well writen Alan! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Once again Alan, bravo! You are right on point…it is almost becoming hilarious to watch the orchestra play as the ship continues to sink. I recently participated in a convention/expo and had conversations of real world funeral issues only to often hear “well, I’m not worried about that particular problem, my families would care about that.”
    Keep preaching…only if you only save one!

  3. Alan, thanks for commenting. I too sat in the wings watching and quietly cheering for Ernie and his crew. I had hoped he would win and start a wave across the country to change the laws in New York, Michigan, Wisconsin and others who still have foolish, antiquated and meaningless laws on the books. But it looks like changing the law through the legislature is the only way this is going to happen. I still find it hard to fathom that state funeral associations continue to fight against what the public is asking for. It only forces those of us that see the future to legally work around the rules to provide for the public. It’s just dumb. Sheeese.

    • BT Hathaway says:

      Hi Dale. I don’t so much see associations fighting against change, as the fact that they lack the kind of mandate and resources needed to pursue change.

      We talk about statutory revision as if its something we can do with relatively little effort and expense. But in many states the cost of writing and lobbying for new legislation could wipe out an association’s discretionary funds for years.

      Which is not to say it shouldn’t be done. But to make it happen requires lots of effort and a recognition of the risk that despite years of effort, you could still end up right where you started.

      • BT,
        The public and the legislature is not against changing the funeral laws. The only reason that the laws haven’t changed in Michigan regarding common ownership of funeral homes, cemeteries and crematories is because every time somebody puts it on the agenda the MFDA makes so much noise that the representatives and senators want to run and hide from the issue. The public has no idea that these stupid laws exist. I’m sure that if the state associations didn’t oppose these changes then new laws would would fly through without as much as a ripple.

  4. Thank you for commenting Alan! It seems we all can relate to the frustration whether in discussions with colleagues or with clients as we take the steps to expose information that will truly be helpful—and because the “paradigms” or mindsets are too rigid it becomes difficult to focus on a new vision with clarity! If people were truly conservative—they would be having 2 days wakes, go to churches more frequently and increase burials. I agree that we professionals simply need to do some part-time “brain surgery” ;) lol… operate on installing “new” manners of thinking that help people get where they truly want to be, they just don’t know how to ask!
    With regards to Pennsylvania, think it may be either “personal” issue interfering–or is it political in that a court feels “slighted” by a lesser court trying to “legislate” outside of legislature? Either way, it would be a good leadership exercise in delivering truly helpful changes rather than strong personalities using connections to hold onto a past that is not coming back!

  5. Patrick Hollick says:

    Alan, great article. Maybe a better strategy would be to encourage the “Good” people of this profession on so that they drive over the cliff sooner rather than later and clear the roadway for the rest of us.

  6. Alan, very well said my friend. I too cheered on Ernie as he forged forward to bring our profession in his state to the 21st century and I too was shocked by the outcome. As a former president of our state association, I always felt it was our job as an association to help our members and to help educate and bring value to our members so they could educate and bring value to the families they are privileged to serve. Unfortunately, all too often, associations – like many funeral directors – want to hold on to what they have and are afraid of change. But, change is constant and if we as profession don’t change and adapt, we will suffer the same fate of the guild you mention. What do they call it when the public no longer finds you relevant? That’s right, irrelevant. If our industry continues down the path of irrelevancy, we will simply become “disposers” and others will become the ones who help families grieve, celebrate and heal. Thanks again for sharing with us!

  7. BT Hathaway says:

    Ernie and company took a risk trying to legislate through the courts and their risk has not panned out. I’m sure their counsel told them their investment might not produce a meaningful outcome. Have they lost six figures in the process? I wouldn’t know first hand but it wouldn’t surprise me.

    Of course, they could have taken the same amount of money and put it towards writing new statutes and lobbying for passage in the state legislature. Would that have accomplished anything more? Hard to tell. And that is why most of us hesitate to pour tens of thousands of dollars into such projects.

    It’s not about shooting inward. It’s about not having enough play money lying around to underwrite the expenses of change. That’s the *real* issue, and not one to be taken lightly.

    Using your example above. What small operator would trade a vacation or two for the uncertain chance to rent out his or her parlor for food service a few times a year?

    For many (especially in the northeast where facilities tend to be small), the ROI on these legislative changes would be measured in decades. In other words, the incentives are so small as to be meaningless. **That’s the part of this equation which needs to change, before funeral service will organize and act.**

  8. Bill Forsberg says:

    Once again AC you wrote the truth which generated great and insightful responses from around the nation (love those words like “guild” and “parlor”).

    Ernie Heffners foray into the world of the Legislative process DID NOT fail by any measure. Funeral service across the country is talking about it. Some are planning strategy for their state based on what Ernie and his group did (or didn’t) do.
    Some are waking up to see that, as Pogo so eloquently put it, “We have met the enemy and he is us”. While others have said “enough” and are planning to exit the business which, by the way, is likely a good thing for the rest of us in the business And the public.

    E.H.’s bravado and moxie (which many of us enjoy) combined with the many dollars spent (which most are amazed at) have brought benefit to us all. Few would have taken on such a heady task and even fewer would have seen it to a protracted conclusion.

    Congratulations and thanks for a well fought action Ernie, regardless of the outcome.

  9. There are good days and bad days on the way towards freedom for consumers in funeral service and this was a bad day. On the other hand, there is finally a progressive side to give voice to what would have formerly been just a sigh of relief on the part of funeral service.
    One day all the walls will crumble and those who have been propped up by those walls will be so far behind the business curve by then that they will be out of business. People go bankrupt very, very slowly and then very, very quickly. That’s whats happening to traditional funeral service providers. They just don’t quite realize it yet.
    I am very persuaded by The Guild analogy. Its also a perfectly suited metaphor for traditional funeral service.
    Thanks for a great commentary.

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