cadaver week: remains | a post from
cremation ceremony in Bali

Man, there are a lot of fancy options for us when we die.

The ever-rising costs of funerals and burials is known to most adults, but few of us investigate this matter in any real depth until we’re actually looking at the real-and-near possibility of dying. I must admit, I haven’t done much research.

A lot of what we believe and hold to regarding our remains is couched in religious tradition. Full-body burials were a big deal for a long time in Christian cultures because of the Christian belief of walking resurrection of the dead. Although the Catholic church still holds, doctrinally, to a physical resurrection of the body, the ban on cremation has been lifted since 1963. Most Christian tradition follows suit – they tend to prefer burials but they don’t actively ban cremation.

Other cultures do other things with remains. Japan, apparently, is a big fan of cremation (it’s mandatory). India, too, largely burns remains – Hinduism insists on it. The natural burial (no coffin) movement took off in the U.K. but I have to say I haven’t heard much about it here in the States. Islam expressly forbids cremation and has specific funeral rites associated with human remains.

One of the more interesting chapters in Mary Roach’s Stiff explored two alternative methods of cadaver disposal: tissue digestion and composting. Both are championed as environmentally superior alternatives to cremation (and burial).

Tissue digestion, more precisely known as alkaline hydrolysis, is a method of disposing of human remains via… tissue digestion. Human remains are placed in a water and lye mixture, heated in a pressured container, and reduced to their most basic chemical parts: amino acids, sugars, and some bone fragments. The bone fragments can go to the family if they so desire and the liquid, which is non-toxic, can either be introduced safely into a sewer system or can be used in a green space (like a garden).

Composting involves flash-freezing human remains, removing water via vacuum, and then reducing the remains to powder via vibration. The powder can then be used as a super-fertilizer. Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, the biologist who developed the method, imagines the remains being used as the base for a memorial plant or garden.

I have to say, I like the idea of my remains nourishing some excellent lilac bushes way more than the notion of a traditional burial in a box, in a graveyard, with a tombstone.

Then again, I always liked the idea of a Viking funeral, too…

How about you? What are your thoughts?

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cadaver week: remains | a post from
This is the way to go.
Cadaver Week: Remains
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