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'Viking funerals' idea, legalizing outdoor cremations, buried by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson

'Viking funerals' idea, legalizing outdoor cremations, buried by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson

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JEFFERSON CITY — Missourians who want to cremate their dead loved ones will have to do so through usual means after Gov. Mike Parson vetoed a proposal that would have legalized so-called “Viking funerals.”

The proposal breezed through the Missouri House and Senate this year as part of a larger package dealing with end-of-life issues. Its passage might have made Missouri a mecca for the so-called Viking, or Jedi, funerals, which involve cremating dead bodies outside before a crowd of loved ones.

But, Parson, a Republican, nixed the idea on Friday.

“The burial of our loved ones or the disposal of their remains is deeply personal and should be treated with the utmost care and respect,” Parson said in his veto letter.

“Without more thorough vetting to ensure that outdoor cremations can be conducted in a manner that fully disposes of the entire remains while also addressing the health and safety concerns of individuals who may be impacted nearby,” Parson said, “I am not comfortable with allowing these types of ceremonies to be conducted in our state.”

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, proposed the legislation and he could resurrect it next year.

“While I’m disappointed that the legislation was vetoed, it’s not the end of the conversation,” Holsman said. “The governor had some concerns and wants to narrow the scope.”

Narrowing the scope might include limiting the funerals to Missouri residents on private property.

Don Otto, executive director of the Missouri Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association, said his organization did not take a position on the outdoor cremations proposal, but said lawmakers had woven in regulations that would ensure safety — and would have made such funerals burdensome to perform.

“For the life of me I don’t know how you could figure out how to do one,” Otto said.

The legislation said a funeral home must comply with all local, state and federal laws dealing with health and safety.

For each ceremony, the funeral director would have to apply for a permit from the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. The funeral home also would have to give 24-hour notice to local law enforcement before every outdoor cremation.

And, all outdoor cremations would have to be supervised by a licensed funeral director.

Otto said there are already a host of regulations for indoor cremations, such as placing a body in a combustible box before it is lit on fire. He also said it would take the state time to draft regulations, so even if the law did go into effect in August, it would have been months before funeral homes would be able to offer the service.

Holsman told the Kansas City Star in June he proposed the measure after researching his own Viking ancestry.

“This has been around since the dawn of man. This is the way that our ancestors took care of their remains,” Holsman said. “The Native Americans did it in trees. The Vikings did it in boats. Outdoor cremation has been around many cultures, forever.”

“Keep in mind our ancestors — the Native Americans, the settlers — they didn’t have to get permits,” he told the Star.

Holsman said his legislation “could end up spurring a cottage industry in the state of Missouri” for people around the country who want to be laid to rest “in the old way.”

The Crestone End of Life Project in the town of Crestone, Colorado, is the only place in the country currently permitted to conduct outdoor cremations, the Star reported.

Otto said he has never witnessed an outdoor cremation, but said he has watched videos of them.

“It can be, potentially, depending on how it’s done — not a pleasant thing to be watching, in my opinion,” he said. “It can be a very, very long process that requires a lot of heat and a lot of fuel.”

The legislation is House Bill 447 and Senate Bill 282.

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