Archive for Thursday, February 21, 2002

Kansas, Missouri morticians urge consumers to ask questions

February 21, 2002


— For some, the horror unfolding at a Georgia crematory is a painful reminder of two similar grisly occurrences in Kansas City.

A state inspector found 32 bodies at Kansas City Mortuary Services in 1979. The owner of the business, which had foundered, later lost his funeral director's and embalmer's licenses.

And in 1996, a Kansas City funeral home disposed of the bodies of a dozen infants as medical waste rather than cremating them. The state filed suit, but a judge ruled that the funeral home did not violate consumer protection laws.

At Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Ga., investigators have found 191 bodies so far that were left to rot after the incinerator apparently stopped working. Authorities say some of the corpses appeared to have been on the property for 15 years or more.

Although Kansas and Missouri both regulate funeral homes, morticians are urging consumers to learn about cremation. Missouri officials check funeral homes at least once a year, while Kansas officials inspect twice a year.

Missouri also regulates the 35 crematories in the state. Until last year, Kansas didn't have a law specifically for its 17 known crematories. A new law will go into effect about June 1, when administrators finish drafting rules.

Even with the rules, experts say consumers should investigate the reputation of the funeral home and find out which crematory will be employed.

Consumers also should find out when the cremation will take place, said Lamar Hankins, a San Marcos, Tex., lawyer who is national president of the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

The funeral homes often provide written information about the cremation, and the Kansas State Board of Mortuary Arts has two pamphlets available.

"We're pretty trusting," said Paul Budd, president of the Kansas City area chapter of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a national educational group. "I think, now, everyone is going to be a little more concerned."

Lawmakers also might look into new regulations to prevent a repeat of what happened in Georgia, said Mack Smith, executive secretary of the Kansas State Board of Mortuary Arts.

"I hope it opens the eyes of all regulatory agencies," he said. "If we need to change something, we'll do it, I guarantee it."

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