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Bridge Michigan
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Opinion | Require Michigan death care industry to refrigerate bodies

The death of a loved one is emotionally difficult and often traumatic. As families grapple with profound grief, they expect others to treat the remains of their parent, sibling or child with respect.

Kevin Hertel headshot
State Sen. Kevin Hertel is a Democrat from St. Clair Shores.

No Michigan family wants to learn that their loved one was neglected or denied proper care and treatment in death. Imagine losing someone we care for deeply, then finding out that the people entrusted with that loved one’s remains had allowed them to decompose in forgotten rooms and in one case, even a garage. 

That actually happened in Michigan. And we can’t let it happen again.

That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to require funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries to refrigerate deceased individuals awaiting disposition. Under current Michigan law, a body must be buried or cremated within 180 days. However sadly our outdated state laws do not require refrigeration. 

My legislation modernizes Michigan laws affecting the disposition of the remains of those who have passed away so every family can have peace of mind their loved ones’ remains are being properly cared for. 

Our proposals’ goal is simple: We want to protect the dignity of our loved ones so deceased individuals are treated with respect. This is something a Michigan family facing grief and death deserves and something everyone should agree with. We also want to give families more options as more and more families are choosing cremations to rein in costs and protect our air, water, land and Great Lakes. 

These commonsense proposals can help prevent horrific incidents we’ve read about in the news, like the Michigan funeral homes that allowed bodies to decompose while awaiting cremation or disposal. 

Furthermore, we now know we must be prepared during mass death events. When mortality rates skyrocketed during peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic, refrigeration was necessary to protect public health because of the high death rate. There simply were not enough crematories to adequately schedule timely cremations, creating backlogs and further need for longer term storage.

For those who claim our legislation is too costly, I offer this reply: refrigeration systems often cost no more than a single funeral. After the shocking and ghastly treatment of human remains during the pandemic, we can’t afford NOT to update our laws.   

Families wracked with grief should not have to suffer the additional trauma of learning that their loved one’s remains were mistreated or neglected. No excuse justifies abandoning or neglecting a person’s remains. I urge my colleagues in both parties and the public we serve to join me in supporting these important updates to our outdated laws on cemeteries, funeral homes and crematoriums. 

Senate Bills 442-446 address long overdue gaps in state laws that allow bodies to be left to the elements, open a door to mistreatment of a deceased person’s remains, and even enable bad actors to unconscionably cut corners. 

By requiring cemeteries, crematoriums and funeral homes to refrigerate bodies, we can give Michigan families peace of mind knowing that their loved ones will be treated with respect and dignity. 

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