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AGO 1964 No. 103 - May 21, 1964
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


FUNERAL DIRECTORS ‑- DISPOSITION OF REMAINS ‑- CREMATION ‑- EMBALMING ‑- COFFIN ‑- EFFECT OF MISREPRESENTATION BY FUNERAL DIRECTOR.

(1) There is no statutory mandate requiring the embalming of a body prior to cremation.

(2) There is no statutory requirement that a coffin be purchased prior to the cremation.

(3) There is no statutory mandate requiring that a coffin be consumed with the corpse.

(4) The manner in which a person may deposit or dispose of cremated remains is restricted by § 28, chapter 247, Laws of 1943 (cf. RCW 68.08.130).

(5) A funeral director and a crematorium operator, like any individual, may be held accountable for any misrepresentation, the legal relief to be afforded being dependent upon the facts and circumstances of the case.

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                                                                   May 21, 1964

Honorable Mike McCormack
State Senator, 16th District
2010 Everest
Richland, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 103

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested our opinion on questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) Is there any statutory mandate requiring embalming of a body prior to its cremation?

            (2) Is there any statutory mandate requiring that a coffin be purchased prior to cremation?

            (3) Is there any statutory mandate requiring cremation of the coffin as well as the body?

            (4) Is the manner in which a person may permanently deposit or dispose of cremated remains restricted by law?

            (5) What is the effect of a misrepresentation of any of the  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] above by a funeral director or operator of a crematorium?

            We answer your first, second and third questions in the negative; your fourth question is answered in the affirmative, and your fifth question is answered in the analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Questions (1), (2), (3):

            The answers to the first three questions are contained in our letter to you of October 11, 1961, which is attached and incorporated by reference into this opinion.  In that letter we concluded:

            (1) There is no statutory mandate requiring that a dead body be embalmed prior to being cremated.1/

            (2) There is no statutory mandate requiring that a coffin be purchased prior to cremation.

            (3) There is no statutory mandate requiring that a coffin be consumed with the corpse.2/

             Question (4):

            The manner in which a person may permanently deposit or dispose of human remains is restricted by § 28, chapter 247, Laws of 1943 (cf. RCW 68.08.130), which provides:

            "Every person who permanently deposits or disposes of any human remains, except  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] as otherwise provided by law, in any place, except in a cemetery or a building dedicated exclusively for religious purposes, is guilty of a misdemeanor."

            The term "human remains" as used in the above‑quoted statute was defined by our legislature in RCW 68.04.020, as follows:

            "'Human remains' or 'remains' means the body of a deceased person, and includes the body in any stage of decomposition and cremated remains."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Therefore it is clear that cremated human remains may only be deposited or disposed of in the manner provided by § 28, chapter 247, Laws of 1943 (cf. RCW 68.08.130), supra.

            Question (5):

            It is not possible, of course, to answer your fifth question definitively.  A funeral director and a crematorium operator may, within wide limits, manage their business in the manner they see fit.  They may require, as a business policy, that a body be covered with some sort of container prior to cremation to avoid handling the body.

            But, quite another matter is presented by a misrepresentation in this regard.  Depending upon the nature of the misrepresentation, and the circumstances surrounding it, a whole series of legal rights and liabilities could arise, such as a civil lawsuit between the parties, an administrative action by a state agency disciplining a licensee for violating RCW 18.39.80 (2) (a), (b) or RCW 68.05.250; or an action by this office under chapter 9.04 RCW (False Advertising Act) or chapter 19.86 RCW (Consumer Protection Act); nor is this list necessarily exhaustive.

            We trust the foregoing information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

DEAN A. FLOYD
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/We note, for your general information, two exceptions to the stated rule.  The circumstances of death following a communicable disease or transportation of a dead human body by common carrier are governed by the rules and regulations of the state board of health adopted pursuant to authority contained in RCW 43.20.050.

2/In the event that a coffin is purchased such coffin cannot be reused (RCW 18.39.180 (j)).

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