During a recent Google-rampage (where I search for news stories and blogs about the industry) I found a disturbing story, passed off as news. 

Read the story here:  ‘Predatory’ Funeral Industry Comes Under Fire

The headline itself made me take notice.  It reads like a real news story.  I expected to find that some congressional hearing had been scheduled or a lawmaker is calling for a review of the industry.

Now, we all know that anytime a politician wants to score some cheap publicity or distract from something else he/she has done wrong, aides pull out the list of industries that people don’t understand and start making crazy allegations.

But this ‘article’ is even worse, as it’s nothing more than fluff designed to look like an actual story.

From the Newser article:

The funeral industry preys on bereft customers, artificially raising prices and taking custody of bodies it has no right to handle, argues a watchdog group. The Funeral Consumers Alliance aims to push fair and environmentally friendly death-care practices, Newsweek reports. “Funeral corporations use predatory sales tactics and aggressive marketing to get people to spend on services they don’t need,” says the group’s director.

By invoking “Newsweek,” the article aims to sell it’s own validity.  The writer relies upon quotes and arguments from the “group’s director” without ever naming the director.  Even worse, the writer uses an old tactic:  stating a premise early (“preys on beret customers…”) while waiting until the end of a long indictment to offset it with a qualifier (“argues a watchdog group”).

Here’s the response I posted in the comment section of the story:

The alliance director (Joshua Slocum, though he is not named in the article) says “I want people to be shocked.”  

Maybe that’s because his organization’s 2006 tax return shows a $28,000+ loss and almost $120,000 in salaries/benefits paid to employees and officers.  

The same scrutiny applied to hardworking funeral directors should also be trained on a group that exists to create jobs for people who stir up public fear in order to generate more donations and membership fees, which then pay for higher salaries for the people who stir up public fear in order to keep the cycle going.  

The truth of the funeral industry is that while scarcely more than 10% of the funeral homes are owned by public companies (which are owned by stockholders), the vast majority of funeral homes are local companies run by people who get up at 2-in-the-morning to serve their neighbors during difficult times.  

Funeral directors aren’t nameless, faceless millionaires cackling while counting all the money made from your loved one’s death. They are the men and women who help you plan your loved one’s funeral. They’re the ones who answer the phone at midnight and miss their kids’ piano recitals to serve your family in a time of need.  

Of course, you should never pay more than you’re willing to spend for services, but that’s why there’s competition in the marketplace.  

Let’s stop pretending that Mr. Slocum has a monopoly on “righteousness” and “concern for the public.” His livelihood depends just as much on people having bad funeral experiences as a local funeral director’s livelihood depends upon good experiences.

Most of us read stories like this and shake our heads, hoping that the general public doesn’t fall for these trumped up reports.  I think that we’re being just a little bit foolish.  Mr. Slocum has nothing better to do with his time than stir up more unwarranted concern and fear, in an attempt to garner more memberships, sell more books (over 5300 publications sold in 2006) and solicit more donations which pay his salary.

The general public needs to know that there are tens of thousands of local, family-owned funeral homes that work hard every day (and night) to see to every detail at their time of need.  And the employees, managers and officers of just over 2000 corporately-owned firms are providing similar services.

The employees of the Funeral Consumer’s Alliance rely upon donations from scared individuals to pay their bills.  Funeral professionals rely upon satisfied and comforted neighbors to keep their families fed. 

One group peddles fear and scare tactics.  The other offers hope, comfort and peace-of-mind.

Which is more noble?

Here’s the link to the longer Newsweek story that quotes Mr. Slocum, with attribution:  A Serious Undertaking