Death to the Death Care Industry

So, I was watching an episode of How Stuff is Made and it featured the manufacturing of caskets. Considering that the casket is going to be buried eventually, it’s just a colossal waste of resources and energy to make a modern casket. The fabrication and assembly of metals, the satin pillows and lining on the inside, and the enameled finish on the outside is just ridiculous. The old customs of burials have morphed into an industry, the Death Care Industry.

The aging baby boomers are moving into retirement like a tsunami, and the Death Care industry is poised to grow with this tsunami death of Baby Boomers; however, the last hurrah of the Baby Boomer generation could be to morph this pretentious and fragile industry by merely getting back to funeral basics. This is an opportunity to radically change a parasitic industry by simplifying the customs of death care. Jessica Mitford explores the ritual of death care and how it became big business in her book The American Way of Death, which I’ve excerpted and blogged.

The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford, 1996, Excerpts

First Publication 1963

A brief look backwards establishes that there is no resemblance between the funeral practices of today and those of even seventy-five to one hundred years ago, and that there is nothing in the “history of Western civilization” to support the thesis of continuity and gradual development of funeral customs. On the contrary, the salient features of the contemporary American funeral [beautification of the corpse, metal casket and vault, banks of store-bought flowers, the ubiquitous offices of the “funeral director”] are all of very recent vintage in this country, and each has been methodically designed and tailored to extract maximum profit for the trade.

Of all the changes in the funeral scene over the last decades, easily the most significant is the emergence of monopolies in what the trade is pleased to call the “death care” industry. Of the three publicly traded major players — Service Corporation International [SCI], the Loewen Group, and Stewart Enterprises — SCI, incorporated in 1984, is the undisputed giant.

SERVICE CORPORATION INTERNATIONAL — SCI

10 May 2006, Form 10-Q

Over the long-term, we believe that our industry leadership, along with superior brand, reputation, financial strength and geographic reach, will result in expanded growth opportunities with the aging of the Baby Boom generation.