Embalmers have the right to free speech, too

November 11, 2012
Advertisement

Article Originally appeared on BostonGlobe.com

Troy Schoeller’s mistake was to speak too frankly — and too pungently — about his work as an embalmer and funeral director, but doing so never should have brought the wrath of a state licensing board upon him. Fortunately for the cause of free speech, the state’s highest court recently overturned that board’s decision.

In a 2006 article in the Boston Phoenix, Schoeller was quoted in gory detail about the mechanics of embalming obese people, and about a difficult reconstruction involving an infant whom he never named. Perhaps not surprisingly, Schoeller’s employer, a chapel, was displeased with his comments and fired him. But the chapel also filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Funeral Directors and Embalmers, which voted unanimously to revoke Schoeller’s professional licenses. The board, most of whose members work in the funeral industry, took issue with the language he used and accused him of undermining the integrity of the profession.

Advertisement

Late last month, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled for Schoeller, on the grounds that the punishment unfairly infringed on his right of self-expression — noting that funeral directors regularly talk about the condition of bodies in trade publications, sometimes in highly graphic terms. By objecting to such a discussion only in the Phoenix, which has a broader readership, the state licensing board showed less concern for public welfare than for the public image of the funeral industry.

Professional licensure boards are getting new scrutiny in Massachusetts in the aftermath of a national meningitis outbreak that has been linked to a Framingham specialty pharmacy. The company’s main regulator, the Massachusetts pharmacy board, clearly wasn’t up to the task of overseeing such an enterprise, and the board’s composition — most of its members are themselves pharmacists — seems likely to discourage strong action in the future. The stakes in Schoeller’s case weren’t nearly as high. But it’s another reminder that goverment agencies that are too close to the industries they regulate sometimes lose their focus on the public’s well-being.

CDFuneralNews

ConnectingDirectors.com is the leading online daily publication for funeral professionals with a reader base of over 45,000 of the most elite and forward-thinking professionals in the profession. With ConnectingDirectors.com we have created a global community through an online platform allowing funeral professionals to Stay Current. Stay Informed and Stay Elite.
Advertisement

You may be interested

How Watching Movies In a Cemetery Became an L.A. Summer Staple
Cemetery
4 views
Cemetery
4 views

How Watching Movies In a Cemetery Became an L.A. Summer Staple

CDFuneralNews - August 14, 2017

The often sold-out Hollywood Forever Cemetery screenings have cemented themselves as a seasonal institution in the Southland, drawing scores of fans and A-listers.

Funeral Homes are Struggling to Keep Their Doors Open
Cremation
8 views
Cremation
8 views

Funeral Homes are Struggling to Keep Their Doors Open

Ryan Thogmartin - August 13, 2017

This is a topic and conversation that does not get talked about or covered enough. We all want to put the blame on cremation and ignore the fact that many of the issues facing funeral homes aren't because families choose cremation but because of bad business decisions of many funeral directors who don't want to change or accept cremation.

Funeral Home Owner Howie VanRensselaer Wins July Sich Casket Giveaway
Funeral Industry Press Releases
2 views
Funeral Industry Press Releases
2 views

Funeral Home Owner Howie VanRensselaer Wins July Sich Casket Giveaway

CDFuneralNews - August 13, 2017

August 8, 2017 -- Sich Casket has announced the winner of their monthly “Year of the Funeral Director” casket giveaway…

Comments