You Want to Do What?

Bonnie Kauth sends us the following report on her saga to get doctors and medical examiners to understand her intent to carry out her mother’s funeral privately, without funeral home involvement. We can never figure out why doctors, of all people, would be so weirded out by death. . .

It’s been exactly three months since I talked to you about getting the “permit to transfer a body” issue sorted out here in Iowa.  (Considering that there is  a 48 hour death to grave requirement, thank goodness we didn’t need the permit.)

Karin and I are trying to line up all of the details for a home wake and a family-directed funeral. We went to the Medical Examiner’s office thinking of it as a courtesy call to confirm what we knew about Iowa State burial law. Wow, did we get a wake up call !!! She had never even heard of a home wake; nor did she realize that she had the authority and the responsibility to issue the transfer permit upon presentation of a correctly signed death certificate.

She agreed to ‘work with us’ as soon as she got clarification from the State Medical Examiner….who she warned us was “difficult to work with.” The county M.E. appeared shocked and mystified that we would want to care for our dead….and pointed out all of the “yuckies’ involved with dealing with a dead person.

I dutifully called the State M.E.’s office , who also didn’t have an idea of what we wanted. Someone, can’t remember who, directed me to the Deputy State Registrar, Jill France. Jill is that unusual person….a bureaucrat who actually knew the law and was happy to help.  She left a message for the local ME that fell through the cracks, as our local ME had received no new info when we called. And so…..I called Ms France again to let her know that we had made no progress. She, in turn , wrote directly to the Scott County M.E. informing her of the state law and also including several forms for ‘permit to transfer”.

I also visited our local Registrar’s office and after meeting with the usual “You want to do What???” ….talked to a supervisor who did acknowledge that indeed her office had the forms – though in her fifteen years they had never been used.

Bottom line….if you live in Iowa….visit the county registrar’s office (sometimes called the office of vital statistics) to clarify that they do indeed have the forms and know the procedure for using them. Call your county Medical Examiner and make sure s/he also knows the procedures. IF you sense any hesitancy to cooperate or a lack of knowledge of the procedure, call Jill France , Deputy State Registrar in DSM and ask her to contact the ME/county registrar. Ms France’s phone number is 515-281-6762.  She was crucial to our getting this issue resolved.

It is discouraging that we were met with so much horror, suspicion and people who tried to dissuade us. My personal physician was similarly ‘shocked’ when I discussed end of life issues and gave her a copy of my “Living Will”. Had I been Jewish, this would have been much easier. Our culture barely knows of this option.

Bonnie L Kauth

Kauth invites any families experiencing problems caring for their own dead in Iowa to contact her by email. She’s a licensed mental health counselor in Iowa, and a licensed clinical professional counselor in Illinois. Kauth can be reached by sending an email to bonkauth -at- (replace the -a- with the @ sign – we do this to stop spam programs from harvesting email).

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