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Mike Maddock, General Manager
2013-03-01 / News

We have choices for dignified, meaningful, and affordable funerals

Part I: Burial Series
By Warren M. Hughes

Can’t I just be buried in a simple pine box on the family farm?

Sam, a stoic native of the upstate, is forthright about his eventual demise. He accepts that like taxes, his death is inevitable, and he plans to confront the issue squarely as his Scotch- Irish ancestors always did. Like them, he would like to be laid to rest in a simple pine box and buried on a high windy hill with his people in the Piedmont.

Contemplating his wishes in advance he had been troubled to think of the accoutrements that could be expensive and to his mind, unnecessary, such as embalming and a costly vault. On inquiring, he was relieved to learn that those customs are not required after all. Like those who have gone on before him, some of whose tombstones can barely be read, it can be dust to dust for him too, as the old family Bible declares. He was grateful to hear that all of those wishes are possible.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance of South Carolina, headquartered in Columbia, is dedicated to consumer choice in making dignified, meaningful and affordable funeral arrangements.

“The Funeral Consumers Alliance of South Carolina believes everyone should understand the full range of choices that are available to them and their right to choose that, and only that, which is most meaningful when faced with the death of a loved one,” said Dr. Gere B. Fulton. president of the FCA-SC.

Two alliance brochures, “Caring for your own dead in South Carolina” and “Must Funerals Cost So Much …” on consumer rights are among several publications available to guide individuals and their families in making those inevitable decisions.

Through them, Sam can be assured that yes, he can be buried on his own land. The only caveat is that a property owner must disclose burials on selling the property and disinterment can be expensive if the buyer does not want graves there. Embalming is not required in any burial or cremation. A vault is not required by law either; although, most cemeteries may require one. Even then, exceptions can be negotiated sometimes.

Since 1993, the FCASC has worked to support the consumer’s right to choose funeral arrangements that are appropriate for the individual situation. In sharing information on caring for one’s own dead, the FCA-SC’s brochure on the subject reflects a national movement.

In March 2009, the Smi thsonian magazine published an article by Max Alexander, “The Surprising Satisfactions of a Home Funeral.” Alexander noted, ‘A movement toward home after-death care has convinced thousands of Americans to deal with their own dead. A nonprofit organization called Crossings (www.crossings.net) maintains that besides saving lots of money, home after-death care is greener than traditional burials — bodies pumped full of carcinogenic chemicals, laid in metal coffins in concrete vaults under chemically fertilized lawns — which mock the biblical concept of ‘dust to dust.’ Cremating a body that is unembalmed (or burying it in real dirt) would seem obviously less costly and more eco- friendly. But more significant, according to advocates, home after-death care is also more meaningful for the living.”

The FCA-SC explains why some would want to choose this option: Some may wish to do this because it seems more fitting and personal for them to care for their own dead rather than turning the body over to a funeral home. Other than embalming, which is never required by law, there is nothing that a funeral director can do that anyone acting as such cannot do for themselves. For most of our history, the family took the responsibility for caring for their own dead. Over recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in reclaiming this practice.

Another reason may be financial. The average cost of a funeral, not including any cemetery costs, is now more than $6,500. With caskets readily available on the internet or by building one yourself-it is possible to provide a meaningful and dignified funeral for a fraction of that price.

There is nothing in the South Carolina Code (laws) that requires the use of a funeral director. The situation is governed by the Code of Regulations 61-19. If you act as the funeral director, you must complete and file a death certificate within five days of the death with the registrar of the county in which the death occurred. You will fill out the biographical details, and you’ll need to get the signature of the attending physician or family physician if any. If not, you’ll need the death certified by the county coroner.

In order to transport a dead body it is necessary to obtain a Burial- Removal-Transit (BRT) permit which, according to Section 23 of the Regulations “...shall be issued by a sub registrar or the coroner in the county in which death occurred.”

The county coroner is legally required to review all deaths if a person dies 1) as a result of violence; 2) as a result of apparent homicide; 3) when in apparent good health; 4) when unattended by a physician; 5) in any suspicious or unusual manner; 6) while an inmate of a penal or correctional institution; 7) as a result of stillbirth when unattended by a physician. (8) in a health care facility, as defined in Section 44- 7- 130 and ( 9) other than nursing homes, within 24 hours of entering a health care facility or within 24 hours after having undergone an invasive surgical procedure at the health care facility (Sec. 17-5-530 of the SC Code).

The county coroner is authorized to issue a BRT permit to the person or persons authorized to handle the final disposition.

Some hospitals may have a policy of referring all such requests to the coroner regardless of the circumstances under which the death occurred.

Most deaths that would typically occur in a health care facility or under hospice care— whether at home or in a hospice facility—would not be coroner’s cases, but ( at least in some counties) coroners expect them to be reported. It’s best to check with the coroner’s office in advance if possible.

Some hospices have been designated by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) as sub registrars and can issue a BRT permit. Some coroners may also be willing to issue permits in such instances.

If one is interested in caring for one’s own dead it is important to plan ahead. While the practice is legal in almost every state in the country, it’s still relatively rare and you may encounter barriers— some because of ignorance and others of intent.

Some hospitals will release a body only to a funeral director or his/her removal service. While this is a violation of the law, it can be a daunting barrier for most families.

Sometimes, there may be resistance from coroners too. Because in some South Carolina counties, the coroner may also be a funeral director, s/he may be unwilling to cooperate with a request to bypass services in which they or other funeral directors have a financial interest.

Because of such concerns, the FCA- SC highly advises that individuals make their wishes known as far in advance of death as possible.

Once arrangements have been made with either the cemetery or the crematory, the body can be placed into a suitable container and loaded into a SUV, van, or truck. Most crematories require that the body arrive in a casket or alternative container so that their staff need not handle the body directly.

The FCA- SC also counsels that if families encounter resistance, if there is still time, the alliance may be able to assist. For information, contact the FCA- SC at 2701 Heyward St., Columbia, SC, 29205, or call 803- 343- 9090, or visit www.scfunerals.org.

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