Malakas Of The Week: The Louisiana Coffin Cartel

The Gret Stet of Louisiana has all sorts of weird boards
and such, which ostensibly regulate commerce but are just as often set up
to protect special interests and fatten someone’s wallet. That, in turn, leads to malakatude as you’re about to see.The latest story involves a dispute between the Benedictine Monks and the
Louisiana Board Of Embalmers and Funeral Directors over coffins

When St. Joseph Abbey decided to open a woodshop on All
Saints Day 2007 to sell handcrafted caskets to the public,
the hope was that the sales would pay for the medical and
educational needs of 36 Benedictine monks.

The board regulating Louisiana’s embalmers and
funeral directors, though, would have none of it. Before a
single casket was sold, it mailed the monks a
cease-and-desist letter, citing a state statute that carried
thousands of dollars in fines and up to 180 days in prison
for anyone selling funeral boxes without first paying the
fees and meeting the requirements necessary to get a license
from them.

On Thursday, the 121-year-old abbey fired back with a
document of its own: a lawsuit asking a federal judge to
strike down that law.

funeral homes need to be regulated for health and safety reasons but
this dispute involves neither. This is about money: the Benedictine’s simple
and comparatively inexpensive caskets are cutting into the profits of
funeral homes. I don’t know how many of you have had to pick out a
coffin but the less expensive options cost much more than the
Benedictine’s and are so awful, tacky and flimsy that nobody wants to
bury a loved one therein. The Benedictines are
cutting into the takings of the undertakers who have rolled out some big guns to stifle competition and protect their own bottom lines. Most of the members of the Board are, of course, morticians who want to keep selling expensive caskets to their customers.

Me, I don’t believe in the body in the box thing. I’ve told Dr. A if I go first that I want to be cremated and put in an urn on the mantle next to our cats’ ashes. I’ve never liked open caskets but ended up *really* disliking them after my mother’s funeral. Part of the Greek Orthodox funeral rite involves anointing the remains with olive oil. It creeps me out but I’m the youngest so I didn’t plan the ceremony. My cousin Carol was raised a Lutheran so she nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw this. It takes a lot for a Norwegian from Wisconsin to freak out but this did it. Sorry about that, cuz.

It’s fascinating that this particular dispute arose in South Louisiana, which, at times, is more Catholic than the Pope. And Catholics disfavor cremation for reasons I once knew but am too lazy to look up so the coffin biz is big biz. It’s time for the state to eliminate the coffin cartel and perhaps even the malakatudinous Board of malakas who embalm and overcharge for it.

When I spotted this story I wanted to, uh, box the ears of the undertakers’ board but since that was physically impossible I made them malakas of the week instead.


13 thoughts on “Malakas Of The Week: The Louisiana Coffin Cartel

  1. Hi Adrastos,
    Me, I’d personally love to have a Benedectine – made casket. I don’t know about the Benedictines, but the Cistercian Trappists use direct internment which would be my choice. After all, why do I want a hermetically sealed tube to keep my fingernails growing.
    RE: cremation – that is also an option I’m considering. Thinking of terms of ecology. One that looks neat that I would love, but costs more than I’d ever pay, is there is a company that will use your cremains to make concrete which is then made into what look like bucky balls. these are dropped off the coast and become the starters for reefs to form.
    About the Church, at one time, cremation was used as a way to deny the physical resurrection of the body. That is no longer the case and cremation is fine.

  2. Thanks, Maple Street. I think a lot of old school Catholics in these parts still dislike cremation. I may start calling you Mr. Human Google. Hmmm, maybe not…

  3. A few years back there was astory in the alternate (as opposed to “alternative”) semi-weekly newspaper about there being spaces inPortland’s Lone Fir Cemetery and having gone through a close brush with the reaper a couple years before that Barbara and I got a double-wide cremation plot for about $500 that’s a literal hop, skip, and jump from a 19th century governor of Oregon and a state highway commissioner. Not too far away is the mausoleum Madonna cavorted in in“Body of Evidence”. Distinguished, no?
    A month or so after we bought it, I danced on my own grave on the anniversary of the day I almost died. The next day I was back in the ER with what I thought might be a reoccurrence of a blood clot in my leg (but it turned out to be gout).

  4. I bet you were never so happy to have had the gout, I have heard it is bloody awful. Apple cider vinegar brother!

  5. Failing a common sense decomp of the Coffin Cartel, maybe the Benedictines can have a large-scale pine-box derby?
    I heard a blurb on the radio about a year ago about some county (it was on NPR I think…) where an environmental group wanted to offer plain ol’ ‘green’ burials – no embalming, no fancy casket, simply in the ground (can’t recall if it was shroud-required or simple box…) and let nature and the worms do their voodoo that they do so well. Despite having the land offered to them, there was yet again a ‘health’ issue and last I heard, it was still not resolved so that folks could be planted in order to facilitate the whole ashes to ashes, corporeal to decomp conversion. Gonna have to ‘teh googull’ that story.
    I’m up for the ol’ roasty toasty and scatter me on some rosebushes somewhere barring a more natural burial. Just as long as I’m well and truly dead at the time that extreme heat is applied.

  6. I find the practice of embalming, funeral homes and any sort of fancy casket with a door at the top so people can gaze at the poor, perished person to be disgusting. Embalming violates all death traditions of our ancestors and all religions.
    I hope this case will loosen some of the laws so we can be allowed more freedom in how we return our loved ones to the Earth. Funeral directors provide a careful process that has been developed nationally over decades and is designed to aid in the grieving process for the family. It’s perfect for some people. But the state regulations don’t allow much freedom for those who don’t subscribe to those death rituals. I find some of them offensive but I’m just one person. For many people, it’s the only choice.
    I don’t think funeral directors would go out of business if the laws opened up a little more. Hopefully, allowing for green funerals. What’s unnatural about the burial process today is there is a bizarre desire to keep the deceased as preserved as possible even after years underground when, in nature the body should decay as fast as possible and pass back into the Earth’s molecular cycles quicker. While gospel songs often talk about “going home” and about “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” their philosophical basis is the matter of a physical form being released and spread about the Earth likeCaesar’s dying breath.

  7. Well, can’t find the story, but found this:
    Cool. And when I googled news about natural burials, all the stories were from the UK, Australia and Canada… They seem to be quite ‘the thing’ there.
    Of course, the whole stick ya in the wall tomb hole for about a year and a day and then whoosh the by then no-extra-fuel-source-needed weather-provided cremated remains out or to the back…that’s cool, too.

  8. Well, being the forensics groupie that I am, I can see having a body to go back to in ‘mysterious death’ circs. But, then – what they could do is take samples to preserve, make a little package that stays at the ME’s “Ark of the Covenant” warehouse…for future reference, as needed – even w/final x-rays/scans on memory format of whatever sort) then the body could totally be set up for green burial.
    Yeah, yeah, yeah…I’m a geek, so what!? πŸ™‚

  9. If I remember correctly from my youth, Catholics frowned on cremation because of the whole “you came from ashes and to ashes you will return” thing. They should have been upset by embalming, but I’ve never heard a complaint about that.
    However, if you donated your body to a catholic medical school cadaver program to be used to train new catholic doctors, cremation was allowed after the school was done with you. Would’ve been freaky to have a funeral a year later, so they kinda had to go along with that one.
    DarrelPlant, dancing on your own grave is like begging the universe to give you a good smack upside the head. You got lucky, and got smacked in the foot. πŸ™‚

    That’s a link toThe American Way of Death Revisited. My grandfather, who died last spring, wanted to be buried in a cardboard box in hole. No can do, said the funeral home, and the family still ended up shelling out $5000 for a casket, not to mention all the other accouterments and costs. Being as notoriously cheap and respectful of his Dad’s opinions as my father is, I’m surprised he went along with the funeral home.
    If you believe in it, I got no problems with it. The other grandfather, who passed away the year before, was a religious Christian fundamentalist who strongly believed in the resurrection of the body, so you kept it whole and as preserved as possible. He also got the great big veteran’s sendoff and a big concrete burial vault. He also planned for it financially.
    Although I have to wonder, if he’s right, Christ is going to have a hell of a time getting him out of that damn vault 8 feet down. They sealed that suckertight.

  11. I have an irrational fear of being cremated; I know that I’m going to be dead and I won’t care, but I’ve been phobic of burning to death for most of my life, and it seems like it would be kind of, um, ironically inhumane to do that to me after I’m dead.
    I have actually considered converting to Humanistic Judaism so I can have a nice simple funeral and expedited burial, so even if my family outlives me, they can’t just do whateverthey want (as they did with at least one of my grandparents) with my remains.

  12. I’ve come late to this thread, but what the fuck. I’m an atheist who was raised Catholic by a prominent, very devout professor of medieval philosophy at a big-time Catholic university. I’ve hated the church for a long time.
    I did spend six years at a school run by an English Benedictine abbey. They were the six best years of my life…Latin, Greek, French, math and science. The monks there buried their members in simple, plain wooden caskets. It was so pure, so right.
    It’s maybe paradoxical to love the Benedictines but hate religion. I’m not sure it is though. Ah well, we’ll see.

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