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Maine Lawmakers Consider 'Viking Funeral' Bill

Maine would join Colorado in allowing open air cremations under a bill before the legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. Though sometimes referred to as the “Viking funeral” bill, the measure would place restrictions on where — and how — the cremation could be done.

If the measure is passed, don’t expect to see a funeral pyre on a boat sailing into the sunset on Penobscot Bay. The bill restricts open air cremations to a fixed location operated by a nonprofit and within a three-sided structure built to withstand the 1500-degree heat that would be generated.

"Open air cremation, while a new idea to many, is also a well understood, preferred and normal option for others. This choice is common in places like India and Nepal," says Angela Lutzenberger with the group Good Ground, Great Beyond that wants to establish a facility in Dresden.

Maine leads the nation in the percentage of people choosing cremation over burial.

“The folks I hear from tell me they ought to be able to plan their own funeral. Ideally made with the collaboration of family and friends. They welcome the chance to consider all the possibilities including one that has been practiced in many parts of the world,” says Democratic state Rep. Allison Hepler of Woolwich, who co-sponsored the bill.

No one opposed the bill, but the Department of Business and Professional Regulation that would oversee open air crematoriums warned that the process of developing rules for such facilities will be costly because the agency does not have the expertise in regulating such facilities.

Corrected: April 10, 2021 at 2:53 PM EDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Democratic state Rep. Denise Tepler of Topsham co-sponsored the bill. It is Democratic state Rep. Allison Hepler of Woolwich.
Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.