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AGO 1952 No. 270 - March 26, 1952
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

FUNERAL DIRECTORS AND EMBALMERS ‑- UNLICENSED EMPLOYEES TO DRIVE FUNERAL CARS.

Since neither the funeral directors code of Washington nor protection of the public require funeral directors or embalmers, or apprentices of either, to do such acts as driving a funeral car, a person not licensed as such may be employed.

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                                                                  March 26, 1952

Representative Edward E. Henry
45th District
535 Central Building
Seattle 4, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 270

 Dear Sir:

             We acknowledge receipt of your request for an opinion of this office of March 7, 1952, in which you have asked two questions substantially as follows:

             (1) May a private mortuary employ persons other than licensed funeral directors, embalmers or apprentices of either for employment which requires handling and transportation of dead human bodies from place of death to the mortuary prior to embalming or from the mortuary to the place of disposition?

             (2) Would such employment be lawful when such unlicensed person merely assists the licensed embalmer or director in such handling or by driving the hearse or the car which picks up the body at the place of death?

             Our conclusions are as follows:

             Persons unlicensed as funeral directors, embalmers or apprentices of either may not be employed to, in any manner, handle dead human bodies, but since neither the funeral directors' code nor protection of the public require funeral directors or embalmers or apprentices of either, to do such acts as driving a funeral car, a person not licensed as such may perform such duties.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

             The Embalmers and Funeral Directors Code of Washington, chapter 18.39 RCW, contains definitions of funeral directors and embalmers in RCW 18.39.010 as follows:

             "'Funeral director' means a person engaged in the profession or business of conducting funerals and supervising or directing the burial and disposal of dead human bodies.

             "'Embalmer' means a person engaged in the profession or business of disinfecting, preserving, or preparing dead human bodies for disposal or transportation."

             From said definitions and other sections of the code it would appear that funeral directors are persons trained in and licensed to take charge of funerals, including burial or other disposition of dead human bodies, and embalmers are trained persons who disinfect, preserve or prepare said bodies for disposal, or transportation.  There is no provision in the act as to who are to be directed by funeral directors or who may assist the embalmers in their duties, and there appear to be no rules and regulations of the director of licenses of assistance in that connection.

           RCW 18.39.200 provides, among other grounds for revocation of a license of a director or embalmer, as follows:

             "(h) Aiding or abetting an unlicensed person to practice funeral directing or embalming;"

             You will also note that RCW 18.39.120 contains the provision that every funeral director or embalmer who employs an apprentice to assist him in the conduct of his business shall register the name of the apprentice with the director of licenses.

             You are quite correct in your statement that public sanitation is involved; and we, in fact, interpret the purpose of the act as being primarily for the protection of the public from improper handling of dead human bodies by inexperienced persons and to further protect the public by the prevention of either disrespectful handling contrary to our standards of acceptance or improper protection against contagious diseases.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            In light of the above basic purpose of the legislation and the admittedly faulty code on the subject, it is necessary to interpret said code in order to give effect to such purpose.  It is clear from the definitions of funeral directors and embalmers that anyone operating a funeral parlor or mortuary and being in said business must have a funeral director in charge to conduct and direct every funeral from the beginning when the dead body is taken from the place of death to the mortuary, during the funeral service, and in subsequent transportation to place of disposition.  It is manifest that there are acts in connection with a funeral which would not require a trained funeral director or embalmer.  For instance, no one would contend that the organist, soloist, minister or pall bearers were required to be licensed funeral directors or apprentices.  Similarly, it does not appear necessary that the chauffeur of the funeral cars would be required to be licensed funeral directors.  Any direction, however, must be either by the licensed funeral director or his apprentice.  Similarly, a licensed embalmer must be in charge or disinfecting, preserving and preparing of the bodies and only apprentices would be eligible to assist him in his realm of activity.

             It would, therefore, follow that where training is not required to protect the public, either in conducting or in preserving, disinfecting, or embalming, a trained person is not required where actual handling was not involved, and it would not be necessary that a funeral director or embalmer, or an apprentice of either, be hired to drive the vehicle which carried the body from place of death to the mortuary or from the mortuary to the cemetery or other place of disposition.

 Very truly yours,
SMITH TROY
Attorney General 

PHILIP W. RICHARDSON
Assistant Attorney General

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