At a Glance:

On November 19, 2021, Compassion & Choices filed an amicus brief in Full Circle Living & Dying v. Sanchez supporting the rights of death doulas in California and discussing the important role doulas play in patient-directed care at the end of life. The case arises from the California’s Cemetery and Funeral Bureau’s (the Bureau) attempt to regulate death doulas as if they were funeral directors operating out of a licensed funeral home. A decision in the matter is forthcoming.

The Details:

Plaintiffs in the matter include death doulas for Full Circle Living & Dying (Full Circle)–a 501(c)(3) California nonprofit providing death doula services in Nevada County, California. The remaining plaintiffs are individuals who are interested in home funerals and death doula services. Full Circle’s death doula services include practical, emotional, and spiritual support before death for dying individuals and after death for families; education on end-of-life options; information and support organizing end of life plans; and assistance in home funerals, if desired. Full Circle’s website clearly states that their death doulas are not licensed funeral directors and Full Circle is not a state-licensed funeral establishment.

In November 2019, the Bureau ordered that Full Circle stop providing its death doula services and advertising those services until Full Circle was a licensed funeral establishment. To become a licensed funeral home, Full Circle would need a physical location suitable for the storage and preparation (including embalming) of human remains. Full Circle does not want to be a licensed-funeral home, does not need a physical location for its services (and does not offer embalming), and could not afford a qualifying physical location on its small non-profit budget.

Additionally, Full Circle’s death doulas would need to become licensed funeral directors. To become funeral directors, doulas would be required to pass a number of exams testing their knowledge on matters specific to funeral directing and embalming that are irrelevant to the services they offer.

Plaintiffs brought suit in June 2020, alleging the Bureau’s actions violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiffs argue that the Bureau violated its First Amendment rights by (1) limiting Plaintiffs’ ability to give and receive individual advice about home funerals and (2) restricting Plaintiffs’ ability to engage in commercial speech and advertise its services. Plaintiffs also claim that the State violated its due process rights by regulating Full Circle and its death doulas as if they were a funeral home and funeral home directors, respectively, thus limiting their ability to provide home funerals and death doula services.

In December 2020, a federal district court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs, granting its request for a preliminary injunction and denying Defendants’ motion to dismiss. The preliminary injunction allows Full Circle and its death doulas to continue offering and advertising their death doula services, despite the Bureau’s notice and citation.

Plaintiffs filed their Motion for Summary judgment on November 19, 2021, the same day Compassion & Choices filed their amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs. A decision in the matter is forthcoming.

Compassion & Choices is committed to ensuring that individuals are able to direct their own care at the end of life and have available the full spectrum of end-of-life care options. Compassion & Choices remains vigilant against any attempts to restrict or prevent individual’s from making their own fully-informed end-of-life decisions.

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