The College of Midwives of British Columbia is demanding a group of "death midwives" stop using the term "midwife" when referring to their services.

The Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives is an organization that represents and provides awareness about "death midwives" — people who help a dying person and their loved ones with alternative funeral arrangements, often at home.

CINDEA's webpage says they use the term "midwife" to "honour and parallel the role of a birth midwife," but College of Midwives registrar and executive director Louise Aerts says the term is reserved under the Health Professions Act and CINDEA's use is breaking the law.

"There can be a misperception from the public when a title is being used inappropriately," she said.

"Part of the idea is to provide a sense to the public of what it means to be a registered health professional, and they know when those terms are being used, that there is a regulatory body overseeing the education and practices and standards of that profession."

Even though death midwives have the "death" modifier before their title, Aerts says the potential is there for confusion.

"The public could conceive that they have the same level of training, the same level of oversight of their practice as do registrants of the college," she said.

As a result, the college sent CINDEA a cease and desist letter this week to prevent them from using the term "midwife."

Doubts about confusion

Aerts says she hadn't heard of CINDEA until the CBC profiled the work of founder Pashta MaryMoon for a radio series.

MaryMoon says the term "death midwife" has been used for over a decade by people like herself, and she isn't sure why it has become an issue now.

"We're not talking about being a midwife for pregnant women," she said. "People who are dealing with the death of a person have no confusion about what kind of midwife we are. So I don't really see why that's an issue."

Pashta MaryMoon rolls a corpse model

Pashta MaryMoon, seen here practising on a live model, says using the term "death midwife" has "nothing to do with being equally credible as birth midwives." (Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives)

MaryMoon questions whether the College has the legal standing to stop death midwives from using the title, but admits CINDEA has no legal representation.

She also says CINDEA's use of the title is not about claiming the legitimacy of midwifery.

"What we're doing is reclaiming the ancient word and the ancient practice. It has nothing to do with being equally credible as birth midwives," she said.

"It has to do with bringing back the original practice of caring for your own dead and the people who would support the families to do that, who were the midwives."

MaryMoon said on Tuesday she wasn't sure what CINDEA's next steps would be besides consulting other group members and similar practitioners in the United States.