Would my family face significant legal restrictions in trying to fulfill my last wish? My body would be on private property in Kentucky.


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Only specified means of disposition of bodies are allowed by law in Kentucky and this is not one of them. The statute that applies once the body comes into the possession of a coroner is here. The statute that applies when a death appears to involve suspicious circumstances is here.

Dispositions of a body that constitute the crime of "desecration of a dead body" crimes in Kentucky are described here. But, the the scenario in the question, while not within any of the clear exceptions to that particular crime, is also not clearly within the definition of that crime. Instead, it would probably be a violation of state funeral home regulations, which are mostly civil rather than criminal offenses.

A subtle point is that certain transformations of a dead body such as cremation and certain kinds of treatments (such as plasticizing) that can cause a body to cease to rot also have the effect of causing the dead body to no longer count as a dead body legally for purposes of laws regulating the disposal of dead bodies.

Kentucky law does not expressly authorize something quite similar to the original post which is the Tibetan Buddhist and Parsi (a.k.a. Zoroastrian) religious practice of "sky burial". But, the free exercise clause of the freedom of religion granted by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and incorporated against the states via the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (a federal statute), may either render this state prohibition unconstitutional or pre-empt it under federal law, because religious practices have greater legal protections than artistic practices. This would be a close call because sky burial can present public health risks that overcome first amendment freedom of religion rights.

  • @ohwileke "because religious practices have greater legal protections than artistic practices. " I have a hard time with this statement, as both are constitutionally protected.
    – paulj
    Jan 18, 2019 at 19:35
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    @paulj Not all constitutionally protected rights are equal, and freedom of expression is routinely regulated more than the free exercise of religion. The government even affords protection to free exercise for prison inmates and POWs. Similar allowances are almost never made for free expression. The big hole in the right to free speech is the legality of "time, place and manner" regulations, in this case, "manner" being the operative issue. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act further preferences free exercise rights over artistic freedom.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 18, 2019 at 23:28

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