Let's Mail Our Remains to Paul Ryan When Trumpcare Kills Us

Special delivery, Mr. Speaker!

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May 18 2017, 3:00pm

Win McNamee / Staff/Getty Images; David Emmite/Getty Images

Do you feel like you're going to die before you have a chance to get your voice heard in protests about the direction of healthcare policy in America? Good news: You can still comment when you're dead.

Or at least that's the intention behind "Mail Me to the GOP," a project developed by Zoey Jordan Salsbury, a student at American University with a creative approach to political commentary. In the wake of Republican debate over the American Health Care Act, she spotted a tweet from Nicole Silverberg joking that someone should "mail my body to Paul Ryan's house" when she died, and it sparked an idea.

Bodies might be a bit unwieldy, but how about ashes? Salsbury's website invites visitors to sign up for information on how to mail their ashes to Washington in the event they die because they lose access to the health care they need, and she's asking visitors for testimonials as well, personalizing what sometimes feel like very large, very abstract numbers.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, up to 24 million people could lose access to health coverage by 2026 under an earlier version of the bill. And that's just people losing insurance. Many more could experience radical changes to their coverage and skyrocketing premiums that make it difficult to stay insured. Trumpcare is bad news for sick people and those who care about them.

That includes people with epilepsy, cancer, asthma, and a host of other conditions who tell their stories on Salsbury's website. The site doesn't offer to handle remains for visitors, instead only offering to connect visitors with resources so they can learn how to make arrangements with an estate planner.

I got curious about the logistics of sending your ashes to Congress, all hyperbole aside, so I asked about the regulations with respect to mailing human remains—whether special restrictions might apply in the halls of the Capitol, and whether Paul Ryan will ever personally handle any of the packages of cremains sent his way.

Mailing human cremains (and pet cremains, for that matter) is legal in the United States, if you use the United States Postal Service, which has a detailed guide on how they should be packaged, labeled, and shipped. Parcels of cremains have to be very securely packaged to prevent leakage, with internal labels in case the exterior label is damaged, and they must be prominently stamped "HUMAN REMAINS" to ensure that they're readily identifiable. No cheaping out on postage, either—they need to go Priority Mail Express.

As for what happens when they hit the Capitol, I turned to a former Congressional aide for information on how mail is handled, and here's where Salsbury's initiative may hit a stumbling block: All mail to members of Congress, in both district and DC offices, is screened before delivery, and that screening is particularly extensive in DC.

While careful screening has always played a role at the Capitol, the 2001 anthrax mailings complicated matters, and Congressional staffers are not fans of envelopes of powdery substances—even after going through screening, irradiation, and x-ray examination. An envelope (actually, a package, if prepared in accordance with USPS regulations) full of cremains likely wouldn't make it to the office, and certainly wouldn't end up in the hands of Paul Ryan or any other member of the GOP. Given the sensitive nature of the contents, mail handlers might face a debate about what to do with it—since simple destruction, the normal approach to questionable packages, might be frowned upon—but the solution likely wouldn't involve passing it along to a Member of Congress.

However, this hypothetical situation raises some interesting legal questions, says Edward Griffin, a criminal defense attorney based in Washington, DC. Griffin notes that, in this instance, cremains may act as protected speech, potentially creating some Constitutional issues— especially if the sender is placed on a government watch list. Such lists "lack review or oversight" and thus could be viewed as having a chilling effect on free speech.

Notably, this isn't the first time protesters have used cremains to protest government inaction on health care policy: In 1992, HIV/AIDS activists from ACT UP stormed the White House to pour ashes on the lawn in broad daylight, going through a line of Capitol Police to do it. In 1996, HIV/AIDS activist David Reid did the same with the ashes of his friend Connie Nord. The Ashes Actions, as they came to be known, are almost unimaginable in the tightly-secured White House of today, but it's clear that ACT UP's radical spirit lives on—and I hear the Capitol Building has a very nice lawn.

Salsbury and the office of Paul Ryan did not respond to requests for comment.

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