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A Real Scandal in the Funeral Industry No One is Talking About

Thursday, December 5, 2013 • by Elizabeth Meyer

Source: Flickr/Gerald Pereira

When I tell people that I worked in the funeral industry, I’m always asked if it’s as sketchy as they think. Then they’ll tell me about an article they read where a consumer was ripped off, or a news blurb they watched about a body being buried in the wrong grave. It’s almost always anecdotal, but the stories pile up.

Although there were major funeral industry issues in the past, since 1984 the Federal Trade Commission has regulated it to curb many horrible practices.  But since employees performing their job properly isn’t interesting, the public only sees the negative scandalous stuff. Thus, people believe the funeral industry, which is already mysterious to begin with, is full of scandal.

Although reporters are willing to sensationalize the most minor offenses in order to shock the public, what happens when a real indignity breaks and the media is silent?  Here’s one story that is both newsworthy and shocking: The top mortuary school in the country is immersed in litigation stemming from allegedly cheating on the National Board Exam.

“The Conference” vs. McAllister

For decades the American Academy McAllister Institute (AAMI) has been the preeminent place to study. They have a section on their website that asks: “Why choose AAMI?” The number one answer they give: “EXCEPTIONAL pass rate on the National Board Exam: 97% since 1995!” This impressive statistic is the base of current scrutiny.

The International Conference of Funeral Service Examination Boards (“The Conference”), a U.S. non-profit made up of funeral service licensing boards, have reason to believe questions to the national board exam were acquired illegally and then taught to the students, giving them an unfair advantage. In October “The Conference” was granted a seizure and impoundment order by a New York court and confiscated all documents and computers from the institution as part of their investigation. Most damning, however, is that “The Conference” will not authorize graduating students from taking the National Board Examination (a necessity for acquiring a funeral director license and obtaining a job). Currently, the teachers are under a gag order and Meg Dunn, the President and CEO of the School, is unavailable to speak.

“Why does this matter?”

If you’re not applying to McAllister to become a funeral director, you might think this doesn’t affect you. You’re wrong. McAllister dates back to the 1940’s and has trained leading funeral directors. Thus, when your loved one dies there’s a strong likelihood the person handling the body went to McAllister. This isn’t to say that alumni are in any way unqualified or less skilled. But, if the charges are true, unlike a random anecdote, this casts genuine negative light on an already oft-maligned profession.