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.
ARE WE A PROFESSION?
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.
IN A WAY I AGREE WITH THE COURT
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.
OK, YOU WON THE BATTLE. BUT WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO YOURSELVES?
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,
P.S. AN APOLOGY
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.