Viewpoint: New Mexico’s cremation laws need adjusting

Generally, when a family member dies, the family proceeds to make final arrangements for the body.

But for Leah McFarland, a mother who raised her daughter alone, it wasn’t that straightforward.

Because she was estranged from the father for many years and could not locate him, the mortuary she selected would not cremate her 30-year-old daughter’s body. In refusing, it cited state law that says cremation of a child requires permission of the “surviving parents.”

Lauren McFarland was found dead Sept. 12 with a gunshot to the face. Her death has been classified a suicide, but the mother says she suspects foul play. Leah McFarland said her daughter had told her that if she died, she wanted to be cremated. Lauren’s body has since been cremated by another funeral service firm.

At issue is whether a funeral home violates the law by cremating remains with only one parent’s permission. Doing so might also appear to leave the business open to a lawsuit should the other surviving parent at some time challenge the cremation.

New Mexico legislators should revisit the law and consider making changes to clarify it and accommodate situations such as McFarland’s — protecting the wishes of the next of kin while protecting the funeral home from a potential lawsuit. For instance, the law could be amended to allow for cremation if one parent swears out an affidavit that the other parent is not locatable, with stiff penalties if they lie.

Any change should offer protection to the businesses that must deal with these sensitive situations.

Those over 18 years of age would do their relatives a kindness by putting their wishes in writing — preferably notarized documents or a will — so parents or other next of kin can honor them, should they need to.

But the rules should be clarified so the deceased can rest in peace and survivors can have closure.

— Albuquerque Journal