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Momentum in Minnesota

A little over a year ago, I leaned into my curiosity and went to go see Katrina Spade speak at the Great Northern Festival. The topic: Exploring Ecological Death Care. Several of the folks pictured above were there.

A little over a year later, I find myself at the capital alongside a former State Senator, a Communications Director from a local funeral home, and UMN Mortuary Science instructor testifying at House and Senate Committee hearings to legalize NOR in the state of Minnesota.

I call that magnificent Minnesota momentum (sorry, I'm a sucker for alliteration).

We are close. Certainly closer than I expected to be a year or so ago. But the work is just getting started!

See a recap of the Committee Hearings below (scroll down if you prefer to jump straight to video of the hearings). More to come on this topic in the coming weeks.


The Hearings

The NOR Minnesota Team had a strong presence at the capital Tuesday and Thursday, providing rich and moving testimony in support of bills HF 2669 and SF 3134. HF 2669 was laid over to be included in the Committee Omnibus bill, while SF 3134 will be need to be heard in the Judiciary Committee.

What do the bills do? In short, they...

  • Permit the conversion of human remains to basic elements using Natural Organic Reduction (NOR);

  • establish licensure requirements for NOR Facilities; and

  • establish licensure fees

Here are the major takeaways from the testifiers...

  • Representative John Hout Introduced HF 2669 describing NOR as another option for families and was surprised by the number of emails he had received on the topic (We see you NOR Minnesota folks!)

  • Senator John Marty introduced SF 3134 discussing the environmental benefits, the simplicity of the process, and the ability to use the compost for continuing the next cycle of life. He rounded out the hearing by stating his personal interest in using NOR himself! We see you, Senator Marty!!

  • Carolyn Laine, former Minnesota State Senator and Representative, kicked off the testimony discussing available options today, their history from early opposition to normalcy, and highlighted how NOR mimics the natural process that has returned our bodies to earth for eons. She also discussed the growing popularity and legislative movement in support of NOR nationally, with 7 states legalizing and a dozen or so more in the works - including the Republican led effort in AZ.

  • Taelor Johnson, shared the story of Steve Wheeler and his journey at the end-of-life which led him to NOR as his chosen disposition method. Working through Interra Green Burial and WA state NOR provider Return home, Taelor and her team were able to make this dream a reality. Transporting his body to WA to be composted. In his words... "If I can take this one action, this final action, and make some good. Leave the world a better place. Makes me feel better... with this act I can at least go out on a high note and say I've left the world a little better than I found it" You can read more about this story and heare from Steve directly via his full testimony.  

  • Janet McGee, Licensed Mortician, Funeral Educator, and lifetime MN Mother who lost a child at home in a tragic accident shared her unique perspective from each of these roles. As a mortician who has facilitated both embalming and cremations, she stated that NOR was no more invasive than either of these practices and and is arguably more gentle. As an educator, she spoke of the changing demands of consumers, the energy and excitement among Mortuary Science students in meeting these needs, and the role NOR plays in doing so. As a mother, she spoke of visiting her son Ted in the funeral home every day, from the moment he died to the moment they buried him, and the potential space that the NOR process provides for Minnesotans to be present in their grieving process.

The NOR Testifying Team. From right to left, Carolyn Laine, Janet McGee, Erik Halaas, and Taelor Johnson
  • Erik Halaas (hey, that's me! totally didn't see this coming a year or so ago) spoke about the NOR process, the findings of the foundational pilot study behind this method of disposition, and the success of current providers in Washington state. Well over 900 people have returned to earth via NOR without concern. Providers working hand-in-hand with with the Department of Licensure and Board of Health, Funeral and Cemetery Board, and third party laboratories to rigorously test the process and end result - compost.

  • The Senate Committee hearing was rounded out by Haley Morris of Earth Funeral Group, Funeral Home and provider of NOR in WA State. Haley drove home the fact that existing options are simply just not sustainable - an issue for Minnesotan's seeking environmentally conscious death care options. Efficiencies in the process and the lack of fossil fuels when compared to cremation reduces emissions by roughly 90%. "People choose NOR because it aligns with their personal values," she said, "it presents the opportunity to leave a positive legacy for future generations, and this bill honors that choice." Emphasizing the growing demand for these services, Haley stated that after five years since legalization in WA, they have not yet been able to meet consumer demand. While it may not be for everyone, the demand is real.

The bill was not without opposition. The Minnesota Funeral Directors Association testified in person demonstrating an interest in making NOR available in Minnesota in time but had concern for safety and believed that more research should be done before legalizing the process. The Minnesota Catholic Conference provided written testimony in opposition to the bills as well.

The hearings were great... but don't take my word for it, watch it yourself!


House Health Finance and Policy Committee - HF 2669

(HF 266 begins @ 10:19)

Senate Health and Human Services Committee Hearing - SF 3134

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