HIV/AIDS and the Funeral Industry

In 1980 until about 1987, an HIV/AIDS epidemic impacted a generation of gay men and lesbians. Due to this epidemic this generation was transformed by changing their interpersonal lives, as well as every social institution. Unfortunately, not even death could help victims that suffered from their body’s inability to fight off infections run from the prejudice that they encounter when alive.

According to Merriam Webster, the definition of the term, funeral, is defined as, “The ceremonies honoring a dead person, typically involving burial or cremation.” The moral point of a funeral is to remember a person who has passed as they were in life, as well as to say a final goodbye to their physical presence which will no longer be apart of the lives of their loved ones. During this period the funeral industry influenced many victims inability to Rest In Peace after being impacted by HIV/AIDS. Gay people faced discrimination when arranging funerals for either themselves or for a loved one who has passed away.

The funeral industry, during the epidemic, made it nearly impossible for families to honor the death of a loved one who died due to aid-related complications. In order to do so, many funeral directors either refused to preserve the body of a AIDS case or insisted on costly expenses for body equipment in order to pick up the body of the deceased. In the article, “Funeral Homes Accused of Bias on AIDS”, by Sharon L. Bass she notes, “Funeral directors who charge more say they do so because of the need to buy disposable protective gear for the embalming, which included googles, a mask, gloves and a gown, similar to the kind worn by doctors and nurses in the hospital” (Bass, 1987). The simple fact that AIDS is a social issue creates fear. Many people can become very ignorant to the social stigma that AIDS is acquainted with such as; social isolation, social inequalities or even ridicule, that they become insensitive towards the fact that people are in grief.

There are many that believed that although a person died from AIDS related complications, the AIDS virus was still lethal. “‘The virus is still virulent,’” said the director of the Celentano Funeral Home in New Haven, Bill Celentano. ‘’We have to use special kits of disposable gear to work on AIDS victims. We have to charge more. We’re taking a risk ” (Bass, 1987). Many funeral homes even advised families to not show the bodies of AIDS victims during the wake, they feared that the virus was potentially still a threat and could contaminate visitors. Those individuals were very misinformed in understanding how the AIDS virus is transmitted from one human to another.

During this period in time, there had been no state regulations that prohibited funeral homes from refusing to handle AIDS cases or limit the amount that they can charge towards a grieving family or individual in order to do so. “According to AIDS project officials and funeral directors, several funeral homes across the state flatly refused to handle funeral services for AIDS patients” (Bass, 1987). However, there were lawsuits that were put in place which had made complaints against mortuaries professionality. As stated in “Funeral For Aids Victims: Searching for Sensitivity” by Jane Gross, “According to Mitchell Karp, the commission’s lawyer for AIDS discrimination, widespread abuses persist and are under investigation. Mr. Karp said that survivors, whom he described as grieving or ashamed, are often reluctant to press complaints, making it difficult to prepare cases” (1987). As a result, many lawsuits were unsuccessful.

During the epidemic many of the issues regarding funeral industries has to do with ignorance. Many funeral industries are not educated towards the fact the AIDS virus is spread only through bodily fluids from a person infected by HIV such as; blood, semen, vaginal fluids, etc. Another way of becoming infected with the virus would be by sharing injection drug equipment, like needles. This type of information wasn’t known to many people who practiced medicine during this time because AIDS was still a new epidemic that no one had any knowledge of knowing where it came from. As a result, people resorted to religious beliefs.

In the article “Exquisite Corpse: The Stigma of HIV and AIDS” Alissa Ouro-Sama she writes, “They conceived that HIV/AIDS were a punishment from God to those who practiced “immoral” behavior such as homosexuality, prostitution, pedophila and adultery. Since then people living with HIV/AIDS were seriously discriminated against and rejected” (2012). Due to many peoples beliefs and their own interpretation of what they perceived HIV/AIDS were, many victims that were infected were penalized for something they had no control over. Mr. Karp, a commission lawyer for AIDS discrimination, makes an attempt to instruct those who work within the funeral industry. In order to do so his unit shows studies of health workers who are exposed to an AIDS victim for a longer period than funeral directors, and are at no risk of being infected. Nevertheless, people stuck to their beliefs. Even funeral industries who were aware, still took advantage of the situation to be able to earn some extra money.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people all fear discrimination when arranging a funeral. Many worry about being treated poorly by funeral directors when it comes to arranging a funeral because many gay people have faced poor treatment in the past, which is completely unacceptable. In the text, “Families of AIDS victims” by Jeanne Peck, “A Portsmouth funeral home that charged $2,700 extra for embalming nine AIDS victims has agreed to reimburse their families for the charges” (Peck, 1996). Jeffrey Fisher, the director of Portsmouth Funeral Home, believes he has not done any misconduct, stating that his employees did not know it was illegal to charge extra for those who died of infectious diseases. However, “the funeral home violated the disabilities act, Justice Department officials said in a press release. Title III of the act prohibits businesses from discriminating against AIDS and HIV victims and other people with disabilities. Charging additional fees for the same service, especially when grieving families are involved, is discrimination” (Peck, 1996). The ADA, or the Americans with Disabilities Act, was a law that was passed in which people with disabilities were protected from discrimination. The ADA guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities. It accommodates those with HIV/AIDS by providing them with; health care providers, employment, housing, and even filing a discrimination complaint. Whether or not the staff or management of the funeral home were aware of the act, it was still a violation of an act and in a way it was seen as prejudice towards those who have the virus.

Funeral homes have exhibited prejudice when it came to dealing with funerals that involved individuals who had been diagnosed with the HIV/AIDS virus. Through countless accounts in the past, this was proven to be true and there have been actions taken by those who believe this matter is unjust. With the Americans with Disabilities Act, those who have this unfortunate disease are now protected under it and do not have to fear being discriminated in places like a funeral home. The funeral homes were abusing their power by charging more money to those who had lost a loved one that was unfortunate enough to have had the disease and as a result, a solution was made in order to stop the corruption that was present. Although in the present, people are still discriminated against for many things, it is safe to say, that even if you are gay, or possibly die due to AIDS related complications, an individual cannot be treated in a cruel manner, whether in life or death.


References:

Bass, S. FUNERAL HOMES ACCUSED OF BIAS ON AIDS. NYTimes. 1987. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1987/11/15/nyregion/funeral-homes-accused-of-bias-on-aids.html [Accessed 18 Apr. 2018].

Gross, J. FUNERALS FOR AIDS VICTIMS: SEARCHING FOR SENSITIVITY. NYTimes. 1987 [online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1987/02/13/nyregion/funerals-for-aids-victims-searching-for-sensitivity.html [Accessed 18 Apr. 2018].

“Funeral.” Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed April 17, 2018. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/funeral.

“Exquisite Corpse: The Stigma of HIV and AIDS.” UWIRE Text, October 10, 2012, 1. General OneFile (accessed April 18, 2018). http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A343089412/GPS?u=sunyfredonia&sid=GPS&xid=19b8bd42.

Peck, Jeanne. “Families of AIDS victims will be reimbursed.” Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, January 19, 1996, 119K9465. General OneFile (accessed April 18, 2018). http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A17807937/GPS?u=sunyfredonia&sid=GPS&xid=ff4adble.