How Hospital Staff and Administrators Can Support Families Who Choose Home Funerals in Washington
Washingtonians have the legal right to custody and control of their own dead. One of the greatest challenges to home funerals is hospital body release policies that are either counter to the law or nonexistent. In the case of muddy or absent policy, the confusion over authority can create negative experiences or court battles. Hospital staff can empower those who may not have known that they had a choice through well-crafted body release policies and procedures, and by ensuring that nurses, chaplains and social workers convey accurate information to families about their right to handle after-death care.
Legal Authority of the Next-of-Kin In Washington, the legislative authority for the next-of-kin to act as unpaid funeral services practitioners is found in RCW§68.50.270: "Possession of human remains: The person or persons determined underRCW§68.50.160as having authority to order disposition is entitled to possession of the human remains without further intervention by the state or its political subdivisions."
RCW§68.50.160(1) specifies: “A person has the right to control the disposition of his or her own remains without the predeath or post death consent of another person. A valid written document expressing the decedent's wishes regarding the place or method of disposition of his or her remains, signed by the decedent in the presence of a witness, is sufficient legal authorization for the procedures to be accomplished.” Immediate family are by law the default decision makers regarding physical remains.
Ways You Are Empowered to Assist the Next-of-Kin
Determine who is responsible for writing or revising body release policies and procedures. Check to see if the existing policy is in compliance with the law regarding home funeral families’ rights to care for their own dead. If changes are needed, use Sample Hospital Policy Language Regarding Removal of the Body to see what other hospitals include in their policies.
Ask the next-of-kin, “What plans can we assist you in making?” instead of “What funeral home do you want us to call?” See How Celebrants/Clergy/Chaplains Can Support New Hampshire Home Funeral Families.
Provide the following information alongside any information about local funeral homes: Under Washington law, families may conduct any or all tasks commonly performed by a funeral home, except embalming (which is not required by Washington law). This may include:
caring for the deceased (for example, bathing and dressing);
sheltering the deceased at home;
filing death notice, handling death certificate/transportation/disposition permit;
transporting the body home or to another location for care and viewing (sometimes called a wake or vigil), and to place of final disposition;
making arrangements for any ceremony and for final disposition (for example, with a cemetery or crematory, or obtaining county planning commission permission for a home burial).
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Washington Funeral Resources and Education is a non-commercial public interest site dedicated to helping Washington consumers care for their own dead with or without the assistance of a funeral director. See FuneralPartnership.org for more state funeral information. This site is maintained as a project of White Eagle Memorial Preserve and Sacred Earth Foundation, which coordinates responses to inquiries with other Washington-based organizations and practitioners that support the mission of the Funeral Partnership.
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