Fort Wayne Death Doula Wins First Round of Lawsuit, Can Keep Business Open While Case is Pending

Dan King
Dan King · December 20, 2023

FORT WAYNE, Ind.—Yesterday, Fort Wayne death doula Lauren Richwine won a preliminary injunction in her lawsuit challenging Indiana’s unconstitutional restrictions on discussing end-of-life care. This decision means Lauren can continue to provide end-of-life guidance to her clients at her death doula business, Death Done Differently, while the lawsuit she filed with the help of the Institute for Justice (IJ) is pending. 

“I’m incredibly thankful that I can continue to facilitate important discussions with my clients about their end-of-life options while our lawsuit is ongoing,” said Lauren. “All Hoosiers deserve to know their choices at the end of life, so they can make an informed decision that best fits their unique needs.” 

Lauren teamed up with IJ to file this lawsuit in August, after someone submitted an anonymous complaint that Lauren’s business was not licensed as a funeral home. Even though her business is nothing like that of a funeral home, the state ordered her to stop talking with her clients about death unless she obtained both a funeral director license and a funeral home license. Together, these licenses would require Lauren to complete college-level coursework that is irrelevant to the advice she gives families; work as an intern at a funeral home for a year and embalm dozens of remains; pay hundreds in fees; and build or purchase a full-service funeral home that can store and embalm remains (which she would never use). 

“It was clear from the beginning of this lawsuit that the state’s regulations were about censoring speech, and not about protecting public health and safety,” said IJ Attorney Ben Field. “We’re glad the court has recognized the harm of these unconstitutional restrictions, and that it will continue to allow Lauren to operate her perfectly legal business.” 

In yesterday’s opinion, Chief Judge Holly A. Brady of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana said, “Indiana’s funeral-licensing scheme directly regulates speech” and that “ordinary First Amendment principles apply.” 

“It’s nice to see the court recognize that the government cannot decide it wants to prohibit speech simply because it doesn’t like the topic or because that speech is part of someone’s job,” said IJ Litigation Fellow Christian Lansinger. “You don’t lose your free speech rights when you go into business.”