By Jeff Harbeson
It is a fact that cremation is irreversible. It is also a fact that the cremation process destroys all genetic and medical DNA. That’s right, once a body is cremated there is no traceable medical or genetic DNA that can be harvested from cremated remains. So now the question; does a funeral director that provides cremation have the obligation to offer this information to the families they are serving? Cremation is irreversible and DNA is destroyed by cremation…funeral directors are currently cremating (or having the body cremated) with the knowledge of these facts. By not providing the family this information during funeral arrangement sessions and prior to the cremation, could the funeral director be held liable for not providing the information? Is providing this information an ethical and moral obligation on the part of the funeral director? This subject is not confined just to cremation families. While DNA can be recovered after burial, it is costly and very distressing process for the family exhuming remains.
What is DNA?
Wikipedia explains “DNA Genetic testing, also known as DNA testing, allows the genetic diagnosis of vulnerabilities to inherited diseases, and can also be used to determine a child’s parentage (genetic mother and father) or in general a person’s ancestry. In addition to studying chromosomes to the level of individual genes, genetic testing in a broader sense includes biochemical tests for the possible presence of genetic diseases, or mutant forms of genes associated with increased risk of developing genetic disorders. Genetic testing identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins. Most of the time, testing is used to find changes that are associated with inherited disorders. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder. Several hundred genetic tests are currently in use, and more are being developed.”
DNA is everywhere…
DNA is a common subject in our daily lives and we either read about it or see it on television; it’s used for paternity testing, solving crime, finding disease, etc. It’s our genetic fingerprint, genealogy, and our inheritance from our ancestors. Our DNA makes us unique and it is also a very important process identifying the possibility of inheriting genetic predisposition for important health conditions including; cancers, cardiovascular conditions, diabetes and mental health issues that may be genetically passed down through the lineage of a family.
Think about it, have you ever visited your doctor and been asked if there is a history of heart disease, cancer or other diseases in your family? If you have then you’ll know why, he is trying to basically establish your DNA in an non-scientific way to ascertain the likelihood of hereditary disease in an attempt to rule out and determine if there is a need to explore the ailment further.
Now that the proverbial DNA is destroyed by cremation cat is getting out of the bag, as a company, we believe that our obligation is twofold. First, we want to offer funeral and cremation providers the ability to provide the families they are serving with a solution to this problem. Secondly, we are providing consumers this information so that they can make educated funeral decisions. As with any new revelation in the funeral industry, we will have funeral directors that balk at such news. However, as an owner of 2 funeral homes and as a funeral professional; I believe the trust of our customers is paramount. At DNA Memorial, we are going support funeral homes to service families, and make sure consumers have awareness. DNA Memorial is unique because we bind the DNA of a person to a substrate. Our simple collection process is an economical solution for retention of a deceased persons DNA for future genetic or medical testing. At many funeral homes, people are purchasing the DNA test along with preplanning their funeral. It’s a gift to their loved ones even after their own death.
Why a family might want to bank their loved one’s DNA?
Genetic testing identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins. Most of the time, testing is used to find changes that are associated with inherited disorders. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder. Several hundred genetic tests are currently in use, and more are being developed.” Additionally, DNA is now also a tool used resolving legal disputes over a will or paternity. For some people genealogy is important and becoming more popular for search of family history and DNA provides a roadmap of the past. So the collection of DNA has several practical applications that surviving family members need to know about.
There are a few notable celebrities that made decisions due to DNA testing. Angelina Jolie is the most recent. Angelina’s doctors believed the mutation found in her BRCA1 gene raised her chance of developing breast cancer to 87%. By opting for surgery to remove her breasts while they were still healthy, Angelina Jolie joined a growing number of women who have used DNA genetic testing to take control of their health. Another is Sharon Osbourne. Sharon claims that DNA screening saved her life. “I had colon, breast and ovarian cancer genes,” Sharon said. Upon learning her results of the DNA test, Mrs. Osbourne decided to have a double mastectomy.
So, DNA and the Funeral Industry?
A funeral director has an obligation to provide families they serve with relevant and important information to make educated decisions. Failure to do otherwise creates mistrust, ethical and perhaps liability concerns between the funeral director and consumers. After all, it’s about the choice of the family. FBA