'In Conversation with' Jeff Zealley

Ethics in the Funeral Profession

The funeral profession is evolving, and as it continues to evolve we will be presented with new challenges in the realm of ethics. In this webinar with special guest Jeff Zealley we discussed the importance of ethics in the profession, examples of ethical dilemmas, and how to ensure that the correct choice is made when you are faced with a dilemma.

Guest Bio: Jeff Zealley, MBA, Academic Fieldwork Coordinator/Assistant Professor at Salt Lake City Community College.

Transcript

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Right. Well, good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today. We're so excited to be here with our special guest, Jeff Zealley, today.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

What I'll go ahead and do is I'm going to just start with some quick housekeeping. So, first of all, this is going to be an interactive session. So we highly encourage participation. Please go ahead and answer the poll questions, drop your questions in the chat. And my associate, Marlena, is here today to go ahead and help with the poll questions and the chat questions. So as we're going along, she will be interjecting as those questions come through.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

A special note for Montana Funeral Director Association members. Please make sure to go ahead and e-mail your license number to Terry so you can get a continuing education credit. And then South Dakota Funeral Director Association members, as well as any other members who are trying to get continuing education credits, go ahead and check with your association. For South Dakota, I am very happy to provide a certificate of completion. So, without much more ado, we have Professor Jeff Zealley with us today. So welcome, Jeff. We're so happy to have you here.

Jeff Zealley

Thank you for being here.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Well, thank you for joining us. And I'm thinking I would like to go ahead and just kind of get started with talking about your journey in the profession. What got you interested in ethics in particular? It's a topic we don't discuss a whole lot in the profession, but a very important one. So I'd love to hear what you have to have to share with us today.

Jeff Zealley

All right. I've been a licensed funeral director and embalmer for, I guess, about 30 years now. I started, I went to mortuary school in Cincinnati and then did my internship in Virginia. I worked in Virginia, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah. I currently serve on the Utah Board of Funeral Service, and I am a full time professor at Salt Lake Community College with the Mortuary Science Program, and also teach medical ethics here as well. And since 2002, I've been a member of DMORT.

Jeff Zealley

I have an MBA from the University of Utah, and a master's of bioethics from Ohio State University. And then on the personal side, married, four kids, five grandkids. Well, four. It'll be five in two weeks from yesterday, is the predicted date. I love World War II history. I'm an avid tombstone tourist, anywhere I go, for whatever reason, I always look up what cemeteries are that might be interesting to visit. I also love Cajun cooking, love Cajun food, and traveling.

Jeff Zealley

So, and, as far as my journey into ethics probably really started when I started teaching the bioethics or medical ethics at Salt Lake Community College. Although, before that I had taught the mortuary law and ethics course in the program. So that that was probably the, it's the bass introduction into it or fascination. But then when I started teaching the medical ethics, I just became fascinated with it, so.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Absolutely. And is that a tombstone I see in the back of your picture there?

Jeff Zealley

This is a little church cemetery in France, in the Normandy region from when I went and visited there about three or four years ago. A little town called Bayeux or this is outside of Bayeux, so.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Wow, that's beautiful, and I think I saw, it said you're a taphophile, how do you pronounce that?

Jeff Zealley

It's taphophile. So, taphophile is the word for someone who's fascinated with cemeteries and headstones.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Gotcha! Oh, that's very neat. And I do see today, again, it's going to be a discussion, obviously not a lecture. And again, we do encourage your participation. Really appreciate just some of the scenarios we're going to talk about. And hopefully people are willing to share some of their personal experience as well.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Well, that brings us to our next section, if you will. But, I believe that most funeral directors have probably faced ethical dilemmas over the course of their career. I mean, the ones I've talked to have. I'm sure the ones you've talked to have as well, Jeff. And what we'd like to do, is do a very quick poll, just asking folks if they've faced a dilemma that they know of, or that someone they know of has faced a dilemma. And if the answer is yes, if you would be comfortable sharing an example of what that looked like. So maybe we can have a little bit of discussion around that.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

So Marlena will go ahead and launch that poll for us right now. We'll give you a couple of moments to look that over.

Marlena Weitzner

Looks like we've got, we're getting some more. We're getting 50% of the attendees. Oh, it's going up. So wait a little bit longer. 81%. It's a little bit, we'll wait 15 more seconds.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

All right.

Jeff Zealley

Maybe some aren't sure if they've experienced some ethical dilemma.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

That's true.

Jeff Zealley

Or, unaware that the situation they faced was an ethical one.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

That is true. Well, they'll know by the end of our time together, maybe if they have faced one, or how to address that in the future.

Marlena Weitzner

All right, I'm going to end it.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

OK.

Marlena Weitzner

Share the results.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Wow. So it looks like 85% say yes and 15% are saying no. Interesting, does that surprise you, Jeff, or does that seem pretty standard?

Jeff Zealley

Yeah, I would expect that. I would expect at least 85%.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

OK, do you think closer to 100, but maybe some don't know it?

Jeff Zealley

Maybe they're just very fortunate.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

True. All right, we're going to close that out and are we seeing any examples, Marlena, of ethical dilemmas people have faced?

Jeff Zealley

I don't think anybody shared anything in the chat yet.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Okay. Oh, but, you know, maybe what I'll go ahead and do. You know, during my time as a funeral director, I actually I knew of a couple people who experienced some. One of which, re-using temporary plastic urns. Their management instructed them that, hey, you got to reuse them when someone's in it, take them out, reuse it.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

So I that that could kind of be an example of an ethical dilemma, perhaps, and maybe a bit more sad than that, I knew a funeral director who had taken care of a family, and the family requested that the dog be put down and buried with the loved ones. So those are a couple I've seen during my time as a funeral director.

Marlena Weitzner

We've got a couple comments here. So, one person had said "Cremated remains of an animal were left in the bin. Employee accidentally swept human cremated remains on top. The employee notified their manager who sorted the cremated remains based on one set being hot and one not".

Jeff Zealley

That's that's interesting because unless it was done immediately, of course, the cold ones touching the hot ones, there's going to be some transfer of heat there. And the other thing that jumped out to me more was the fact that a human and an animal were cremated in the same retort. Which maybe in that state it's legal. I know in Utah that is not legal. So that would be an ethical issue in and of itself.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Interesting. Out here in Oregon, I know a lot of funeral homes do that, so I'm assuming it's legal. Quite a few I've talked to do.

Marlena Weitzner

And then another comment. So sorry.

Jeff Zealley

Go ahead.

Marlena Weitzner

Another comment says they're too new to have not experienced it yet.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Oh, well, perfect. Well, thank you, folks, who gave us some insight. And I guess, maybe what we can go ahead and do is just talk a little bit about what ethics are, some examples of where situations are going to arise, maybe. So, Jeff, I'll kind of let you take over from here, since you are our expert today. So thank you.

Jeff Zealley

All right. So ethics are basically the moral principles that guide our personal conduct and conduct of groups, because we each have our own personal ethics, things that we believe are right or wrong. But we're also part of many different groups. There's ethics within your family. There's ethics within your religion, within your society. And your society could be United States. It could be the town that you live in. It could be the school you go to, or where you work.

Jeff Zealley

So there are ethics within funeral service itself. But then there are also more specific ethical standards that vary from funeral home to funeral home. You know, again. The way something is expected to be done at one funeral home is not the same as another. In fact, the couple of days ago, we were talking in class as far as, once you're at the graveside and the service is concluded, how long should the Funeral Director stay there? Is it OK to tell the family, "The folks right over there, you see in the truck, they will be over here as soon as you're you're finished. You're welcome to stay as long as you want. And if you want to go home, that's fine. When they see you leave, they'll come over, they'll lower the casket, close the grave." And then with that, is it OK for the funeral director to go ahead and leave? So it varies from that, all the way to some funeral homes say no, we stay at the cemetery until the casket's lowered, until the the vault is closed, until the grave is filled and the flowers placed on top.

Jeff Zealley

So that can be an ethical issue right there as well. How long are we responsible to care for that family or for that burial?

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Well, when we talk a little bit about, like, cultural ethics, it's interesting. You know, over the course of my career, I've been able to serve quite a few families of different faiths and whatnot. And it is just interesting to see the way different cultures handle it. Like, you know, in India and Thailand, they usually cremate, like on a funeral pyre, is my understanding. And here, it's kind of frowned upon.

Jeff Zealley

As far as I know, there's one open air crematory that I'm aware of, in Colorado. Yes. But otherwise, yes, it's done in the retort.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Yeah. Or reusing graves. So a lot of places, you have it for X amount of years and then when your time's up, you're out and someone else is in.

Marlena Weitzner

So somebody had commented, "I found there's a variance on the knowledge base with funeral directors as to understanding their state's law on how the funeral directors is required to stay at the cemetery."

Jeff Zealley

And not all state laws or funeral director service regulations even stipulate how long they should stay. But then, yes, just even that first part is true. Just because you're a licensed funeral director doesn't mean you know exactly what all your laws require you to do, because I've heard many stories or interpretations of the law.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Definitely. Well, so this chart we have here kind of talking about right versus wrong comfort zone, discomfort zone, is this something a funeral director could use in their everyday life, if you will? Or how do we look at this?

Jeff Zealley

Yeah. Are they able to see that slide right now?

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

I do believe so. Are you not seeing it on your end?

Jeff Zealley
  1. We're hearing some yeses, so
Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Okay, perfect.

Jeff Zealley

Yeah, because for many of us, whether it's personal and professional or whatever other kind of ethics we're looking at. We're pretty sure that these things are perfectly fine to do and these other things definitely not, but often when it comes to ethics, there's a huge middle area that's that gray area, because we need more details. And what may be ethical in one situation, may not be ethical in another, because, again, ethics are not black and white.

Jeff Zealley

So you have your your comfort zone and the discomfort zone, and then "I need to think about that" zone. And I know in the ethics courses I teach frequently, students will say, they'll share their opinion. But then as they start talking among each other, then they're really "oh, I hadn't thought about that." And so that causes that pondering to take place.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Yeah, it is interesting, so the "I need to think about it" zone like you were talking about. That kind of gray area and just trying to figure out how do you know what the gray area is? Sometimes it's hard to even identify the gray area to determine, is this OK? Am I just feeling this? How's everyone else feeling? Yeah, it's a tough part. And then, you know, how do we know when we cross the line? That kind of goes along with it too. Like, how do you know when you're entering the dark zone or if you're still in the gray zone? Is that something you could speak to a little?

Jeff Zealley

Sure. And so, as I noted here, intent is often a big factor when we're trying to decide if something is ethical or not.

Jeff Zealley

Did you do X, Y or Z with a good purpose, why did you do it? Or anybody who has kids can relate to this? Because your kid does something you say, why did you do that? Because as a parent, you may think "that was just the craziest thing". So we take time to listen. Well, this is what I was thinking, like, OK, I understand. Or well, that's nice, but you failed to consider all the other factors.

Jeff Zealley

And when it comes to the law, often that's what happens is, attorneys battle with that. It's like, well, what was the intent? And it's hard to prove intent because there's no physical evidence of a thought process, so.

Jeff Zealley

Makes it a little difficult. And then if you'll click to the next one, because I think I have. So in Wyoming, and I know other states have laws similar to this or at least regulations or, as far as, what is unprofessional conduct? And that's where probably there's more the ethics, is when we're talking about unprofessional as far as, as opposed to illegal or legal. Because if it's illegal, then obviously it's unethical to do it. But as far as unprofessional.

Jeff Zealley

So here, solicitation of human dead bodies by the licensee, etc. those working for them. Whether the solicitation occurs after, or while the death is impending, provided this shall not be deemed to prohibit general advertising. And then if you click that next one there.

Jeff Zealley

So giving gifts to nurses. Go back one, there.

Jeff Zealley

And giving gifts to nurses, hospice workers or the coroner, is that unethical? Or is it just, well, I do this to show my appreciation for them. Well, if that nurse gets a gift card to Amazon or whatever restaurant, every time you happen to show up to make a removal, maybe it's not just a token of appreciation because a subtle message is being sent there.

Jeff Zealley

Oh, yeah. If I refer this funeral home, I'm going to get that nice little gift card. So that's a nice little perk there. That's much different than giving gifts during the holiday or once a year type of thing. So, again, I think that's where people can also look at the intent and what's the intent of giving that gift.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

And that makes sense, I know, like a lot of funeral homes really work to develop the relationship with hospice associations.

Jeff Zealley

And that's important.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Of course it is important, but then you go, I mean, it's kind of maybe in that gray zone like we've talked about. Like, yes, you want to have that relationship, but what is your intent behind it? Is just to do good in the community or is it because you're trying to get business? So, yeah, that's a wonderful example.

Jeff Zealley

Let's move on to the next slide.

Jeff Zealley

OK, you know, as Funeral directors, we certainly know that what we do with bodies and parts is important. But why?

Jeff Zealley

Why does it matter? So maybe in the chat we'll invite some people to share. Why is it important what happens with bodies and parts?

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Yeah. We'll give them a couple moments to do that.

Jeff Zealley

I know, because I taught some of my students that, pretty much since the dawn of time and throughout the world, humans have done something respectful with dead bodies. As far as I know, no society or group just generally says, oh, well, it's OK to just throw the body in the dumpster. We don't send them out to the landfill. And so there is something interesting that nobody does that. Why don't they do it? Because at the landfill, they'd still get buried.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

True, that made me think of the Tibetan sky burial, where they send them to the top of the mountain? But again, I mean, it's. Yeah. Oh sorry, Marlena, go ahead. We have some some responses coming through?

Marlena Weitzner

Yes. So somebody had said "Families are putting their loved ones in our hands. They trust us to have a level of respect."

Jeff Zealley

So within our culture, and as I mentioned, pretty much every culture, there is a certain level of respect that is expected to be shown towards a dead body, because that body still represents who that person was.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Absolutely. So that's kind of, part of why. I mean, that really is why it matters what we do with the body, because it does. It still represents that person, whether it's burial or cremation, Tibetan sky burial, whatever you end up doing, it is important. Do we have some more coming through, Marlena?

Marlena Weitzner

Yeah. So somebody else said "This is a real person. Everyone deserves dignity. To treat each like we would want our own parent to be treated as a best practice."

Jeff Zealley

But then I'm sure some of our attendees have experienced this, where just because someone's related to us doesn't mean that all is lovely, and that we're holding hands all the time and we enjoy each other's company.

Jeff Zealley

I remembered when I first started in the funeral business up in Missoula, Montana, the manager told me about a time that he took care of the cremation of a lady. And when he asked the husband, he said, "what would you like to do with the cremated remains?" The husband said, you can throw them in the, I think he said, "You can toss them down the toilet for all I care."

Jeff Zealley

Well. Even though that's what the husband thought, that's not what the funeral director did. So again, because, well, that that is not an ethical option within our industry, or even within our culture. So. Bad plumbing as well.

Marlena Weitzner

Yeah, another question. Somebody had asked, "how long do you hold cremains?"

Jeff Zealley

So you almost have, if you hold them, you almost have to hold them indefinitely, Excuse me, I'm going to take a little drink water. I know at one funeral home that I worked at, they have the same problem that I think almost every funeral home in the United States has, and that's that, well back in this closet there's this huge collection of unclaimed cremated remains where families just never came in to pick them up.

Jeff Zealley

And so the funeral home decided, OK, we're going to go through all the records. I mean, fortunately, everything had names on them. And so they made an effort to contact every family member to notify them. Just in case you didn't know, Uncle John is down here at the funeral home. And so would you like to come get him? And those that still remained unclaimed or then put, because we had so many, they pretty much almost filled an air tray.

Jeff Zealley

And so then they took that air tray and put it in a mausoleum at one of the local cemeteries. And then so we did a similar type of thing at another funeral home that I worked at. And so, every year we kind of started doing that process. OK, anything that's not claimed, we contact the family and tell them. You can come pick them up or we can take them to the cemetery, we can scatter them. In Montana, it's legal for the funeral director to just scatter them with the family's permission. You can't throw them away. You have to do something with them and then keep a record of where they are. Because if someone shows up in 15 years, you need to be able to answer that question of "where are they?"

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

And it does happen, right? I mean, family members come years down the line, like, hey where's grandma? So, yeah, that's.

Jeff Zealley

And so there's a question here. "So what do you do in the case when they say throw them in the dumpster?" I have this situation and the family won't pick them up. Yeah. And so what you first have to do is look at what your state law allows you to do with unclaimed cremated remains. So hopefully your state has something with that or, and again, if the family refuses and the state doesn't have something, then perhaps the funeral home goes to a cemetery and buys a niche or a grave and just buries them.

Jeff Zealley

And that way, if the family ever changes their mind, they can be retrieved. But then they're disposed of in an ethical manner. And I know more and more funeral homes are adding verbiage on their cremation authorization forms that stipulate if you don't pick them up by X date, they will be mailed to this address. So that's one thing that can be done.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Definitely. Well, that's a great suggestion, just making sure to have those best practices in place, which I think we'll talk about in just a little bit. So we've kind of talked about what we do with bodies and parts that matters. This is one of my favorite parts of your presentation, the case of "Look what I just found". Still the Funeral director, but can we talk about this a little? This is a very thought provoking.

Jeff Zealley

Sure. So this is just a scenario I made up. Imagine, you know, you're having a visitation. And during the visitation, someone wanders back into the prep room, one of the employees or maybe it's you and you notice a small biohazard bag and you're like, "well, what do we have here?"

Jeff Zealley

And then you see a tag on it or a label and it has the name of the deceased who's being viewed. So perhaps like in the scenario, maybe the person had a partial autopsy and just the heart was removed. And then for whatever reason, during the preparation process, the bag got set to the side but didn't get placed inside the cavity on the conclusion of the embalming process. So if this happens before the funeral, like the night before, that certainly different or puts you in a different scenario than if you notice that during the funeral or when you get back from the cemetery.

Jeff Zealley

And so when you're faced with an ethical dilemma, one of the first things you do is say, OK, what are my options? Do I just throw it away? Do I take it out to the retort and cremate it? Do I tuck it down underneath the bed of the casket? Or if it's the night before after the visitation, do I bring them, bring the body back in the prep room, take them out of the casket, undress them, open the incision, place the viscera back inside, dress them again, put them back in the casket, take them back out into the visitation room?

Jeff Zealley

One certainly takes a lot longer than another, but a funeral director needs to ask themselves, well, what is the expected procedure? What is the standard of care within our industry? Well, it's that the, those organs should be placed back inside the body. So even though it may take another hour or two to fix things, maybe that's the right thing to do. However, that may not be an option if you're discovering this right when you get back from the cemetery.

Jeff Zealley

And then we face that, "geez, what now, what do I do?" I don't want to tell the family, that'll upset them. Or I don't want to tell the family they might sue me, and I don't, and that's not worth it. And it's going to upset them. It's going to cost me my job, my business. But what's the right thing to do?

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

And even the night before or during, even if it's before the placement, it's like you tell the family? Do you not? Are you like, hey, I made this mistake, but I fixed it. Or do you just keep quiet? Like, that's probably kind of a gray zone, right?

Jeff Zealley

Yeah. Now I would, and this is my personal belief. If you discover this the night before the visitation and then you take care of everything, I don't feel there's an obligation to tell the family, "oh, I forgot to do this, but I fixed it" because you've done what's proper. Informing them that, "oh, I made a mistake" isn't necessary, any more than it would be necessary if while you were aspirating, you accidentally pushed the trocar too far and created another opening. You don't have to tell the family, "hey, during part of the process, I messed up" you don't have to tell them. So.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Well, that's great if people want to maybe even drop in the chat what they think, what would they do after the burial or during the funeral? If anyone wants to share, we'll definitely share that. So feel free to. But let's also kind of look at my probably, my second favorite part, if you will.

Jeff Zealley

Michelle, before we do that, I just want to address the question Tammy asked. And she said, "what are your thoughts on a funeral home requesting a deposit or retainer to be paid by the family until they come back to pick up the cremains? Then that money is given back to the family." Yeah, I've heard of that. And I think that's perfectly acceptable.

Jeff Zealley

I know there are funeral homes that do that. And again, you can just tell the family we require a $50 deposit because, in case someone does, and maybe it's $200 or maybe it's $500 depending on what it is you're going to do if they don't come back. Because if you say, if no one comes to claim them, then we take them to the cemetery and bury them. And then the cost for that, for a plot and the opening closing and an urn vault is X or we charge fifty dollars because we're going to mail them to you.

Jeff Zealley

But if you come pick them up, then at that time we will issue you a check for that amount. So Tammy, I think that's perfectly acceptable in my opinion.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

That's a wonderful question.

Jeff Zealley

All right, so on this next one, yeah, again, getting back to what we do with bodies and what's OK. You're cutting a lock of hair. I mean, that's that's been a practice for hundreds, if not thousands of years. And pretty much everybody is accepting of that.

Jeff Zealley

Putting cremated remains in jewelry. I'd be surprised if there's a funeral home in the country that doesn't offer that option anymore. But then another one, in fact, it's something that's being discussed amongst a number of Funeral Directors in Utah right now, is whether or not non licensed personnel should be allowed to make funeral arrangements. Someone may be wonderful with families, a very competent person as far as checking off the boxes, but they've not been, we don't know that they are fully aware of federal and state laws.

Jeff Zealley

Do they know that they have to give that GPL to the family? And do they know when they have to give that to them? Because should one of those secret shoppers from the FTC come in and that GPL isn't presented at the right time, it could mean a fine of $40,000. So.

Jeff Zealley

Or families can just be misinformed again, just through the lack of education of that person making the arrangements. For family comes in, you're talking about, well, OK, we're going to have the burial at such and such cemetery, and the family says well "I know we have to buy a vault because that's required by law." Well, if the person making the arrangements is not informed, they may say, yeah, that's fine, and here's your options. Well. I've not heard of any laws that require a vault to be purchased. And something I kind of hammer in to my students, too, is even if the cemetery requires an outer burial container, you need to call it that. You can't say the cemetery requires a vault if they accept a grave liner.

Marlena Weitzner

So. We've got a comment. "In England, any individual can set themselves up as a funeral director, a funeral director is not licensed."

Jeff Zealley

Yeah, and I know. And so in Utah right now, really, a license is only required to embalm, cremate or sign a contract. So anyone else can make arrangements, work a funeral service, a graveside service. It's perfectly legal. The laws vary from state to state as far as who can do what. All right. Yeah, and go ahead to that next one.

Jeff Zealley

So those things on the left, you generally are OK. But now if someone said. Well, mom's going to get buried, but could you just snip off her big toe and put it in the jar for me to keep? Most people would, you know, no that's ghastly. I'm not going to do that. Well, why not? When my dad died and he was cremated, you put part of his body in a little container for me. And I'm asking you to do the same thing with my mother. So why isn't it OK to just do the toe? No one's going to know, it'll just be. You know, I just want to have that at home. You can pour some of that embalming fluid in there and I'll keep that. Would any of our participants fulfill this request?  Or who wouldn't? I want to see any reactions there.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

You think it's 50/50, Jeff?

Marlena Weitzner

I got a no, another no.

Jeff Zealley

I know Tom. Good, Tom. No nippers. I'm not qualified to surgically remove a body part. OK.

Marlena Weitzner

Another no.

Jeff Zealley

All right, yeah, so, most people, and this isn't surprising, would not fulfill this request. Because also imagine, what happens when this family says, "oh, yeah, you know, I have I have my mom's toe in a jar?" Oh, really? Why is that? "Oh, well, because the funeral director did it for me." Oh, what funeral home is that? Not something you want being posted on social media.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Definitely not. So if it's not toes though, there are some other interesting things people ask to be removed, is that right?

Jeff Zealley

That's right. So let's proceed. Most people, although I guess this is still something that Funeral Directors are learning about. But there's a company called Save My Ink Forever, and they preserve tattooed skin. They send a kit to the mortuary and the funeral director, the embalmer, removes the tattooed skin. So Save My Ink gives you the instructions, they'll walk you through the process. Then that tissue is sent to the company. It's processed and then framed. Tattoos are extremely popular in our culture today. They aren't just for the military and, you know, motorcycle gang members. It's pretty common. It's it's almost becoming more rare to find people without tattoos than with them. And if they had a lovely tattoo or one that meant a lot to people, you know, to someone in the family, they'd want to keep that. So again, is this much different than putting a little bit of cremated remains in a jar? Or in a piece of jewelry and wearing that?

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

What if it's a little one versus a big one? Does that make a difference?

Jeff Zealley

Yeah. So let's go on, because you look at this and you think, oh, that's kind of nice. And so when I came up with this presentation, I called the company and talked to their attorney and also one of the COOs from there. Because, I told them, I have questions about this. And the attorney said, I believe that consent and ethics generally work together, and that as long as all parties consent and the preservation process is done in a respectful manner, then the preservationist is working in an ethical manner.

Jeff Zealley
  1. And then Kyle Sherwood said, "We have done extensive research to ensure that we are not acting unethically." So that's OK. It's like, OK, if if you're doing something in an ethical manner, does that make it ethical? Let's go to that next slide.
Jeff Zealley

And does consent make it ethical? Because we can go back to the husband who wanted his wife's cremated remains thrown in the trash or down the toilet. If he gave consent, does that make it OK? So. And does the way you do it make it ethical? Because it's one thing if I just have cremated remains, just toss the thing out. Well, that's not very respectful. Well, what if I just set them down in the garbage can? I'm acting in an ethical, that's respectful. I didn't just make a basket with that temporary urn. Does that make it ethical? I don't think most people would.

Marlena Weitzner

We've got a question.

Jeff Zealley

Yes.

Marlena Weitzner

What ethical position would you take if the deceased has requested that the tattoo be preserved for his son, but his spouse says that is not to happen?

Jeff Zealley

So let's see, if the deceased has requested, I see. Well. Uh. Yeah, well, when it comes down to it, once the death occurs, the spouse is the one who has the legal right of disposition and is the one who gets to make decisions as far as what will and will not happen. So the spouse would have the final say. So legally, the funeral home would have to go with what the spouse wishes. Even if this is something the funeral home has done before and thinks is perfectly fine. Yeah, if the spouse says, "no, you're not going to cut off anything", you're going to do that.

Jeff Zealley

Then we have a comment. "So in the state of Montana, you can authorize your disposition prior to death" and I know there are. But that's usually with cremation/burial.

Jeff Zealley

It would be curious to see, because I'd be surprised if Montana has authorized specifically the removal of tissue as part of the disposition process. And then the next point on the slide.

Jeff Zealley

Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's ethical. Because there are many things that are legal, but people have their own ethical standards and they say, "well, that may be legal, but I don't do that because it goes against my ethics".

Jeff Zealley

So one example of that is abortion. If a doctor believes abortion is unethical, even though it's legal, he is not legally responsible or required to perform an abortion or something like that. Body modifications could be other examples there.

Jeff Zealley

Oh, go ahead.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Oh, no, I was going to say, I know we're nearing the end of our time together, we definitely want to cover the next slide. And then if anyone has any kind of last minute questions, we're going to make sure we're respecting everyone's time. Please go ahead and drop those in the chat, but we'll go ahead and show this next slide.

Jeff Zealley
  1. Yeah, so, when it comes to Save My Ink, they've even drawn a line. Because they said, well, we won't preserve facial tattoos or genital tattoos, we don't like the idea of the face being displayed and well for the genitals. I think it's the reasons obvious why we say no to that. Onto the next one.
Jeff Zealley

Yeah, again, because you go back, geez, well, if there's consent, if the family gave consent, but even this company says, well, we're not willing to cross that line.

Jeff Zealley

And then this is a picture of one of the tattoos or obviously multiple tattoos they preserved. So it was one thing to see that the nice little rose in the picture, but this is the entire back and arms of the individual. And so I know as I've given this presentation to other people, they've looked and said "well yeah the rose, that that looks nice". But when they see this, they're like, "OK, that's going too far". Well, again how do you draw the line?

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Definitely, this might be something that falls into the gray area. If it's legal, you know, but it's extreme.

Jeff Zealley

It is.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Well do we have any other questions, Marlena? I know there's still so much we can talk about when it comes to ethics. And we would love to have Jeff on with us again. He has such valuable insight. Let's go ahead and maybe we can grab a couple more questions before we conclude our time together.

Marlena Weitzner

And it looks we do have a comment and then a question so far. So I will read the comment. "We had a spouse come in and remove her husband's gold fillings. She didn't ask us. She just asked to see him one more time. And when we left the room, she took pliers out of her purse and pulled his teeth. We didn't consider it ethical, but it was probably her right from a legal standpoint. Therefore, legal does not equal ethical."

Jeff Zealley

Yeah, and then, Stephen, again, just because we are out of time there, is there a way a funeral home or cemeteries can prepare to deal with ethical gray areas? Do we have time, Michelle, to just maybe zip down to, I think it's number 18, making ethical decisions.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Of course.

Jeff Zealley

So, you know, maybe take a screenshot of this, or I think also Michelle will, at the end share the last slide that has my email address, but. These are things to do, is kind of think out, geez, what are some potential scenarios that might face us? Because first we have to look at the problem, and come up with our options and potential solutions. And when you're looking at options, you have to look at the risks and benefits of each one, and then make a decision. Well, the pros outweigh the cons, or the cons outweigh the pros. Therefore, this is what we'll do in this situation. And then just that next slide.

Jeff Zealley

Also, this comes from the Ethics Resource Center. The PLUS decision making model. So, is it consistent with our policies? Is it legal? Do these conform to the universal principles or values that our company has adopted? And does it satisfy my own sense of what I believe is right or wrong?

Jeff Zealley

So those are some things that you can do and, you know, because certainly it's better to think ahead and try and prepare yourself. Of course, it's impossible to be prepared for every type of scenario. I learned years ago to never say, "well, now I've heard it all, or now I've seen it all", because the sun will rise tomorrow and shed light on something else that's new.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

That's the truth. And as the profession continues to evolve, I'm sure ethics and dilemmas we're faced with will also continue to present themselves.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

So well, everyone, thank you so much for joining us. These have been wonderful questions. We've been so honored to have Jeff with us today. If you have any questions, we do have his email address here. So I highly encourage you to reach out to him. He's a wonderful resource. If you don't have time to grab his e-mail before we conclude, you can always reach out to me and I will share this with you as well. But with that, I think we will go ahead and wrap it up again. Jeff, thank you so much for your time today.

Jeff Zealley

Thank you. And thank you, everybody, for attending.

Michelle Imam Bakhsh

Yes, thank you, everyone. Well take care, and we will see you for next month's "In Conversation With". Thanks again, everyone.

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