SPRINGFIELD -- It can take days or even weeks after someone dies before the family gives instructions on what kind of service they want, funeral directors say.
Sometimes the family lives out of state and can't be reached, or family members argue over the arrangements. Meanwhile, funeral homes may hold the body without refrigerated storage, potentially allowing it to decompose and posing a public health risk.
Now an Illinois lawmaker with personal experience with the issue is proposing an unusual piece of legislation to address it.
State Rep. Dan Brady, a Bloomington Republican who's also a funeral home director and embalmer, wants to require bodies to be refrigerated or embalmed within 48 hours if funeral homes don't receive other instructions from the person in charge of arrangements.
"It's just about as far as one could hold remains without preservation," before they start to decompose, Brady said.
Brady's funeral home doesn't have refrigerated units to store bodies. In one case, a family from California couldn't be reached for three days. In the meantime, Brady turned the body over to the coroner's office to be refrigerated, adding to the funeral's price tag. Brady said this happens all across Illinois.
Brady also says the bill would protect funeral directors, from a liability standpoint. If a family couldn't be contacted, the funeral home could embalm the body without having to fear litigation if it were against the family's wishes.
The current law says funeral homes can embalm if they've made a "good faith effort" to contact families, but it says nothing about a time period.
Charles Childs, president and co-owner of A.A. Rayner and Sons in Chicago, said his funeral home has held bodies for one to two weeks while waiting for instruction from families.
"We wait the next day, the next day, and we have no contact with the family," Charles said.
His funeral home, one of the largest in the state, has refrigerated units that allow for longer storage. Some funeral homes, especially smaller ones in downstate Illinois communities, don't have refrigerated storage facilities.
Steve Knox, executive director Illinois Funeral Directors Association, said his group hasn't taken a position on the 48-hour rule because it hasn't had enough time to analyze what it would mean for the industry. But he said it's not an uncommon law among states.
Woodford County Coroner Tim Ruestman said this legislation would be good for consumers.
"It protects everybody," said Ruestman, who serves on the Illinois funeral home and embalmers advisory board.
The legislation has been sent to a House rules committee.