How Physicians Can Support Washington Families Who Choose Home Funerals in Washington
Washingtonians have the legal right to custody and control of their own dead. Whether the death was anticipated or unanticipated, once time and cause of death are established, the next-of-kin may choose to care for and transport the body, file the death certificate, arrange for disposition, and conduct any other aspect of 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 As the person responsible for establishing cause of death, physicians are often the primary legal authority in contact with the next-of-kin and the larger family. How you approach their choices will determine the direction taken. Here are three ways you can positively influence the outcome:
The prevailing practice in hospitals and hospices when a death has occurred, or in anticipation of a death, is to ask families, “What funeral home do you want us to call?” The question implies that the family is required to purchase the services of a funeral director or mortuary when this is not, in fact, the case. Instead encourage your staff to ask families, “What plans can we assist you in making?”
Let families interested in handling their own paperwork know they may do so once the medical portion (pronouncement and cause of death by medical authorities) and the demographic portion (by the next-of-kin acting as their own funeral director) are completed.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for families handling their own paperwork is finding physicians to get the medical portion of the death certificate completed, especially in circumstances when the deceased died in an unfamiliar place. Physicians can make a real difference to home funeral families by tending to the cause of death signature on the death certificate as quickly as possible.
Additional Information National Home Funeral Alliance (NHFA) www.homefuneralalliance.org Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) www.funerals.org
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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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