To many, death is a taboo, frightening subject. But not to Lauren Richwine, a lifelong resident of Fort Wayne. Founder of Death Done Differently, LLC, Lauren is a consultant who specializes in helping those with a terminal diagnosis and their families plan for the final days of life and what will happen after someone dies. If asked, Lauren will also be present in those final days, providing emotional and practical support. By facilitating these conversations and being present with useful guidance, Lauren helps people affirm the reality of death, promotes healthy grieving, and ensures that her clients and their families are prepared when the time comes.
Specifically, Lauren helps her clients and their families put together a plan for the end of life. This may include delegating tasks, like medical power of attorney or officiating, to the appropriate family member or professional. It can mean helping families navigate the range of funeral goods and services available, acting as an emotionally supportive and financially disinterested advocate as families interact with the funeral industry. It may entail crafting legacy letters for family and loved ones. And if a family chooses a traditional alternative to conventional funerals—such as a home funeral or a green burial—Lauren can talk them through those options, too. From diagnosis to death, nobody else fills a role like Lauren does or others like her who act as end-of-life guides. Her business’s name, Death Done Differently, perfectly captures her ethos.
But the state of Indiana has demanded that Lauren stop speaking with families about end-of-life planning. In January 2023, the Attorney General’s office sought a cease-and-desist order to force Lauren to get funeral-director and funeral-home licenses to continue advising her clients. And in August, the State Board of Funeral and Cemetery Service issued such a gag order. But getting those licenses is just not possible: It would require Lauren to go to mortuary school, intern for a year as a funeral director (a job she doesn’t do), and acquire a full-fledged funeral home that she would never use.
Lauren’s work consists of speech—talking, explaining, teaching, drafting plans. As speech, it is protected by the First Amendment. Indiana cannot stop her from helping the dying and their families plan for the end of life and from acting as an advocate for them. That is why Lauren has filed suit in federal court to defend her First Amendment right to speak freely about death and to help families in Indiana confront the end of life in a way that best fits their wishes and beliefs.
Lauren’s Funeral-Planning Services Consist Only of Adults Talking
Lauren became interested in end-of-life care while working as a hospice volunteer. She was troubled by what she calls a “death-phobic” culture, which discourages people confronting death from engaging in the important conversations about how they wish to be treated in their final days and how they want to be remembered after death. Additionally, Lauren noticed that in the continuum of care from medical providers to hospice to funeral directors, there was something important missing: a person who helps a family conduct those difficult conversations and acts as an unbiased advocate for them.
As Lauren learned, there is a national movement of like-minded people helping the dying and their families. Often called “death doulas” or “death midwives,” they fill the gap that Lauren identified and help families consider the full range of options available to them. These options include both conventional modern funerals and more traditional options, like a home funeral. They may include religious ceremonies, like a Catholic wake or Jewish shemira, or ecologically conscious ones, like green burials. Lauren read and trained widely, joined the major national organizations for death doulas, and became certified through a local hospital network to facilitate conversations about advance care planning decisions for the end of life.
In March 2019, Lauren decided to make this a vocation and founded her business, Death Done Differently. Lauren describes herself as a “community death care advocate.” That is, she views her role as one of many people in the death care “community”—as a liaison among the hospice caregivers, the family, and funeral directors. She is an “advocate” in that she works alongside her clients, educating them of their options and acting to fulfill their chosen end-of-life plan. Lauren offers multiple individualized services, including one-on-one consultations, legacy letter writing, and mentorships for others learning to talk about death differently. She also gives generalized educational lectures to large groups, like hospice organizations and churches.
Lauren does not engage in any conduct or activities that require technical expertise. She does not provide medical care, embalm or store remains, or operate a physical structure or building for such purposes. Nor does she hold money in trust for funeral goods and services that will be used at an unknown point in the future when someone dies. These actions are left to others in the death care community that are trained to perform those tasks.
Instead, Lauren partners with local funeral directors and keeps a binder of their information for her clients’ use. Knowing Indiana is one of nine states that requires families to hire a funeral director, she provides the practical, emotional, and non-technical support that arms-length funeral directors, who generally do not enter the picture until after death, simply do not offer. Thus, Lauren fills the gap in the continuum of care that she identified years earlier.
The State of Indiana Orders Lauren to Stop Discussing Death Care
The state of Indiana—through the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency, the Attorney General’s office, and the State Board of Funeral & Cemetery Service—does not distinguish Lauren’s work from that of a licensed funeral director. In 2021, the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency received an anonymous complaint that Lauren was engaged in the unlicensed practice of funeral services. They referred the complaint to the Attorney General’s office, which informed Lauren she was under investigation.
Lauren was shocked to receive this notice because she never considered herself a funeral director. Believing it all to be a big misunderstanding, she sent a response describing how her work “is that of an educator and an advocate” rather than a funeral director. She also provided a letter from a funeral director with whom she works, who supports Lauren’s work. And Lauren provided a testimonial from a former client, who wrote movingly about how valuable Lauren’s services were and confirmed that she provided educational and emotional support during a difficult time.
But Lauren’s appeal to common sense made no difference. Under Indiana law, all counseling about end-of-life care is the “practice of funeral services” and requires a license. There is no exception for those whose services consist only of adults talking.
In January 2023, the Attorney General’s office requested that the Board of Funeral and Cemetery Service order Lauren to stop talking about death with her clients and the public. In accordance with Indiana law, the Board ordered Lauren to “refrain from counseling consumers, whether individually or in educational events open to the public, in any manner and through any medium, concerning the methods and alternatives for the final disposition of human remains,” unless she and her business obtained both a funeral director license and a funeral home license. They further ordered Lauren to cease advertising her services. Given how Indiana’s funeral laws are written and the broad powers they grant to the Board and Attorney General, Lauren had little choice but to accept the order.
In practice, this was a complete gag on Lauren’s speech. Obtaining a funeral director license and a funeral home license is impracticable for Lauren. These licenses would require Lauren to attend mortuary school to study irrelevant topics like embalming, anatomy, and chemistry; work as an intern at a funeral home for a year and embalm dozens of remains; and build or purchase a full-service funeral home that can store and embalm remains. In short, then, Indiana’s government has commanded Lauren to stop talking about death differently, leaving her clients—and future families in need of guidance—without her practical and emotional support.
Lauren Partners with IJ to Fight Back
But Lauren will not be silenced. She has teamed up with the Institute for Justice to bring a constitutional challenge in federal court in Fort Wayne.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects Americans’ right to speech within their occupation. The government cannot censor these important discussions surrounding death through licensing schemes that largely serve to protect licensees, and at the expense of both Lauren and families who want to hear her advice. Indiana is not protecting consumers by keeping them in the dark about their end-of-life options. And requiring Lauren to obtain years of irrelevant education and build a full-service funeral home she would never use unconstitutionally burdens her right to talk with families about death care.
The Institute for Justice has spearheaded the occupational-speech movement and has won cases in federal courts across the country, including a case vindicating the First Amendment rights of end-of-life doulas in California. As that case recognized, Lauren’s case also involves a second important speech right: the ability to advertise lawful activities. Just as Indiana cannot stop Lauren from speaking with families, it cannot stop Death Done Differently from truthfully stating on its website that Lauren is available to help those families.
The Litigation Team
Lauren Richwine is represented by Institute for Justice Attorney Ben Field, Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes, and Litigation Fellow Christian Lansinger.
The Institute for Justice
Founded in 1991, the Institute for Justice secures the constitutional rights of everyday Americans against government abuse. This includes protecting the free speech and economic liberty rights of those who speak for a living. Currently, IJ is challenging a California law that requires people to get an engineering license to draw lines on a map, a North Carolina law that requires a drone operator to get a land-surveyor license just to take photos, and another North Carolina law that mandates a retired engineer get a license before pointing out mathematical errors in proposed projects. IJ has also successfully represented end-of-life doulas in California—and their clients—in a lawsuit challenging the state’s requirement that they obtain a funeral director license and funeral establishment license to give families individualized advice to plan home funerals.