FORT WAYNE, Ind.—To many, death is a taboo subject. But not to Lauren Richwine, founder of Death Done Differently, 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 death. But the state of Indiana wants to silence this speech, which is why Lauren today teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a federal free-speech lawsuit to tell the state that it cannot silence these important conversations about death.
“You shouldn’t need a license to discuss end-of-life plans with someone, and requiring such a license is a blatant violation of the First Amendment,” said IJ Attorney Ben Field. “What Lauren does is speak with other adults about end-of-life plans, and the Constitution doesn’t allow the government to censor those conversations.”
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 an 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.
After receiving an anonymous complaint that Lauren’s business needed funeral licenses, the state ordered her to stop talking with her clients about death unless she obtains both a funeral director license and a funeral home license. Together, these licenses would require Lauren to: complete college-level coursework focusing on embalming, anatomy, and chemistry; 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). The message was clear—she must stop talking about death.
“I was shocked when I was told I’d need a funeral director license to continue running my business, because I’ve never considered myself to be doing the work of a funeral director,” Lauren said. “Instead, I’m an advocate and guide to help people understand their end-of-life options and decide what is best for themselves and their families.”
“By forcing Lauren to build a funeral home she would never use, and train for a profession she doesn’t practice, Indiana is simply banning her speech,” said IJ Litigation Fellow Christian Lansinger. “That’s not just unconstitutional, it’s depriving members of Lauren’s community of the unique and important support and information that she can provide.”
IJ defends the rights of individuals to engage in occupational speech throughout the country. It 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 also fought against a Florida law requiring individuals to get a license to discuss diet advice.
IJ has represented several individuals challenging the protectionist practices and expenses of the funeral industry. In 2013, IJ won a case on behalf of monks in Louisiana after they were told to stop selling handmade, wooden caskets without a funeral director license. And IJ continues to represent 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 plan home funerals.