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After-death care changes approved

Published (3/11/2010)
By Lauren Radomski
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Heather Halen, Minneapolis, testifies before the House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee March 9 in support of a bill that would modify provisions regarding viewing, transporting and removal of a dead human body. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)Heather Halen calls living without her husband the most difficult thing she’s ever had to do.

Yet the Minneapolis woman is thankful for the way she was able to say goodbye. In the days after her husband’s death, Halen kept his body at their home and invited loved ones to visit before transporting the body to the cemetery in a pine casket built by friends.

“Gary, in his life, embodied the very meaning of the word simplicity,” Halen said, “and each step of this process, I felt, was so in keeping with his values and the way he had lived his life.”

Halen is among the growing number of people looking for after-death processes that are interactive and natural, said Rep. Carolyn Laine (DFL-Columbia Heights). She sponsors HF3151, which clarifies the rights of next-of-kin to control a dead body, not just the disposition of remains. The bill would allow those listed in Minnesota’s next-of-kin hierarchy to obtain permission to remove a body from the place of death. It would also modify rules for how bodies may be transported and prepared for public viewing.

It was approved by the House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee March 9 and sent to the House floor. A companion, SF2903, sponsored by Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul), awaits action by the Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee.

Contrary to prevalent misinformation, a dead body does not represent a health risk to those around it, said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“Generally speaking, across the board, there is no risk at all of a dead body, regardless of the cause of death, actually transmitting an infectious agent to someone after the time they die,” he said. Exceptions may occur when the body cavity is open during an autopsy.

Laine said her bill is intended to give families more choices, not to impede on the procedures of funeral homes or hospitals. Officials with the Department of Health and Minnesota Funeral Directors Association have had a hand in shaping the legislation.

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