Categories
Death + Popular Culture Death + the Law Death Ethics Eco-Death Grief + Mourning Suicide

2015’s Most Memorable Death Essays and More

2015 was a good year for death. Without much hesitation writers and editors both agreed that death topics sold copy/generated clicks so the stories kept coming all year long.

I compiled a short(ish) list of what I consider to be the most memorable critical reflections on death during 2015. It is a mix of essays, radio stories, and videos.

I created this list by asking myself what things I watched/listened to/read that really stood out in my memory. Each of these essays is worth reading. You should also listen to the This American Life radio story and watch the UK Commons debate on Assisted Dying.

It’s a bit New York Times heavy, but then I think that the Old Gray Lady really deserves credit for publishing some of the year’s best essays on death and dying. Indeed, I think everyone should be reading the NYT’s ongoing essay series on the end-of-life simply called The End.

One final 2015 highlight. In October 2015, the Bristol Museum in Bristol, England opened a remarkable and quite beautiful exhibition called Death: The Human Experience. [Full Disclosure: I was an Advisor on the exhibition] The show runs through March 13, 2016 and is FREE. I highly recommend checking it out.

That’s it for 2015. The Death Reference Desk (Meg, Kim, and John) all look forward to keeping things real and deathy in 2016.

‘The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning’
by Claudia Rankine, New York Times (June 22, 2015)
The murder of three men and six women at a church in Charleston is a national tragedy, but in America, the killing of black people is an unending spectacle.

 

Getting Grief Right
by Patrick O’Malley, New York Times (January 10, 2015)
Don’t believe what you hear about closure and ‘stages’ of mourning.

 

New York Times Starts New Series on Death and Dying: The End.
The Death Reference Desk (February 1, 2015)

 

This American Life Episode 557: Act III About that Farm Upstate
Jonathan Goldstein (MAY 15, 2015)
While it’s hard to explain to kids how babies come into the world, it might be harder to explain that people leave the world too — especially to a kid whose mom or dad or brother or sister has died. There are grief counseling centers all over the U.S. that cater specifically to children. Reporter Jonathan Goldstein visited one in Salt Lake City, The Sharing Place.

 

Bereavement Can Overwhelm a Student – and Support is Sparse
Louisa Ackerman, The Guardian (March 05, 2015)
Nothing can prepare you for the shock of losing someone you love. But universities ought to know how to take care of a grief-stricken student​.

 

UK House of Commons Debate on Assisted Dying Bill
Video of Commons Debate (September 11, 2015)
The Bill seeks to enable competent adults who are terminally ill to choose to be provided with medically supervised assistance to end their own life. [Note: Click on ‘Watch Parliament TV: Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill’ to watch the Debate].

 

Why ‘Natural’ Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore
Michael Pollan, New York Times (May 03, 2015)
Whether we’re talking about food, politics or morality, we can’t agree on a definition.

Categories
Cemeteries Death + Technology Death + the Web Eco-Death

Future Death. Future Dead Bodies. Future Cemeteries. TEDx Talk by John Troyer

Future Death. Future Dead Bodies. Future Cemeteries
John Troyer, TEDxBristol Talk (September 15, 2012)

On September 15, 2012 I was one of the TEDxBristol speakers. The TEDxBristol 2012 theme was Future Shock, so I took the opportunity to discuss three of my favorite topics: Future Death, Future Dead Bodies, and Future Cemeteries.

The entire TEDx event was organized exceptionally well, and I was impressed by all the speakers. I usually count on at least one speaker who completely blows it and becomes that guy (because it’s almost always one of the male speakers) so that I can be relieved that I wasn’t that guy. But no.

 John Troyer using officially recognizable TED talk hand gestures
John Troyer using officially recognizable TED talk hand gestures

What really stands out for me from the day is the live drawing being done by artist Nat Al-Tahhan as each of us spoke. Nat drew images reflecting our talks, while we spoke, and she nailed the day down. I love the images. You can see them here.

I’m fairly certain that Death Ref readers can determine when I spoke, based only on the drawings.

The video of my talk is now up and you can watch it on YouTube here or above.

Categories
cremation Eco-Death

Nuts and Bolts! Nuts and Bolts! Dead Bodies Rule!

The Afterlife of Artificial Hips and Knees
Clark Boyd and Rob Hugh-Jones
PRI’s The World via BBC News (February 21, 2012)
The metal used in surgical implants can be melted down and recycled after people are cremated, and these days it often is.

Long time readers of the Death Reference Desk might remember this August 2009(!) post: Reduce – Reuse – Recycle – the Dead… I mention this particular post because the BBC News and PRI’s The World radio programme just did a piece on a Dutch company that recycles metal implants used in humans.

Here’s the rub: the metal implants are recycled after an individual is cremated.

In all honesty, there isn’t much new about this technology but since the process involves dead bodies it is always fascinating.

Indeed, if you would like a full rundown on everything Eco-Death then click away. We’ve been covering this topic since Death Ref took its first humble steps.Hip Joint

There isn’t a ton of money to be made in postmortem-human-implant-metal-recycling but that is probably ok.

And who knows where the implant metal recycling market will lead. I am keeping my eye on a Detroit, MI company, Implant Recycling, in the hopes that one day Motor City will rise again by cornering the market.

That particular Renaissance would be only too fitting.

Categories
Death + Biology Death + Technology Eco-Death

Soylent Green is Dead Bodies Eaten by Mushrooms

Green Burial Project Developing Corpse-Eating Mushrooms
Paul Ridden, gizmag.com (July 29, 2011)

 

The Infinity Burial Project
Jae Rhim Lee

Every once in a while I come across a new-dead-body-disposal-concept which I really like. Indeed, I really wish that I had tons of excess cash so that I could start my own dead body technology R&D company which would then develop innovative and exciting new ways to handle human corpses. We would be the Venture Capital worlds Death Angels. Or, if YOU happen to be a Venture Capital investor reading the Death Reference Desk (it could happen…) then drop me a line because I’ve got lots of great final disposition ideas!

Until that happens, I’ll confine myself to ye olde Death Ref.

Back in July, I came across this short Gizmag post on artist Jae Rhim Lee and her cultivation of flesh eating mushrooms. Actually she’s working with run-of-the-mill shiitake and oyster mushrooms and isn’t bioengineering some new kind of flesh eating fungus. Too bad, really.

Anyway, Jae Rihm Lee’s project taps into the burgeoning world of green burial technologies, a topic which Meg, Kim, and I have covered in depth on the Death Reference Desk (I strongly suggest reading Kim’s excellent Green Burial: A Review post).

Here is how Gizmag’s Paul Ridden explains Jae Rihm Lee’s mushroom idea:

The Infinity Burial Suit prototype is made of organic cotton and covered with an embroidered net of thread which resembles the growth pattern of mushroom mycelium, and that has been infused with mushroom spores. A special cocktail of minerals and spores will also be introduced into the corpse itself, that will encourage mushroom growth from the inside. Special make-up based on the spore slurry is also being considered that will quickly break down and assist the decomposition process.

 

The project is aiming towards the development of a natural burial system which will facilitate decomposition of the body, remediate accumulated body toxins, and deliver nutrients to plants in the surrounding area. Lee also hopes that the Infinity Burial Project will help raise awareness of the concept of death acceptance, rather than continuing to try and detach ourselves from our inevitable end.

In a nutshell, what Jae Rhim Lee is proposing would work. I’m not sure that it is any more cost-effective than just leaving a dead body to decompose in a forest but that’s a tricky legal situation. Besides, if a dead body, um, dies in a forest and is then devoured by mushrooms and no one sees it, then what fun is that? Besides torturing an already over used metaphor.

So I absolutely support the Infinity Burial Suit project, mostly because I can now embed the trailer for the BEST 1970s dystopian future film of all time: Soylent Green!

Categories
cremation Death + Humor Death + Popular Culture Eco-Death Monuments + Memorials

Praise the Lord and Pass the Cremated Remains Filled Ammunition

Holy Smoke
Planning a loved ones final arrangements can be a challenging responsibility, one you want to do with care and consideration. Allow Holy Smoke to help you create a tribute to your outdoorsman or woman like no other.

So yeah. I had heard about people loading ammunition with human cremated remains and then shooting the ammo but I did not know, until this week, that a company would do it for you.

And based on the reaction of my British friends (I live in England), many people still do not believe it is possible. And/or, the loading of live gun ammunition with human cremated remains is a distinctly American form of memorialization. Not unlike spelling memorialization with a ‘z’ instead of an ‘s’.

Take that Red Coats!

But I digress.

Here at the Death Reference Desk we believe in presenting the full monty when it comes to contemporary forms of postmortem memorials. So a company such as Holy Smoke is due some respect for combining two of America’s great past times: shooting bullets and capitalism. Not necessarily in that order.

But lo, what might you receive when purchasing Holy Smoke’s ammo? Well, their website explains:

Once the caliber, gauge and other ammunition parameters have been selected, we will ask you (by way of your funeral service provider) to send approximately one pound of the decedents ash to us. Upon receiving the ashes our professional and reverent staff will place a measured portion of ash into each shotshell or cartridge. (Please note that our process uses only a portion of the ash from a typical cremation.)

 

Example: 1 Pound of ash is enough to produce 250 shotshells (one case).

Now, I’m not a gun person (even though I grew up in the great state of Wisconsin) so 250 shotgun shells sounds like a lot of ammo. I can’t imagine firing a gun 250 times to remember a person I loved.

Unless, of course, you’re using the Holy Smoke ammunition to defend the human race against the imminent Zombie Apocalypse!

Categories
Burial Cemeteries cremation Death + Technology Eco-Death

Dead Body and Technology Lecture Tuesday April 19

Future Death: The Dead Human Body as Biomass
An Illustrated lecture with Dr. John Troyer
Deputy Director
Centre for Death and Society
University of Bath
Tuesday, April 19 at 8:00pm

Hello Death Reference Desk readers. Next Tuesday, April 19 I am giving a talk in Brooklyn, New York for the Observatory group and the Morbid Anatomy Library. My good friend Joanna Ebenstein runs the Morbid Anatomy Library and she is the hippest, coolest, pathological anatomical specimen collector you will ever meet.

Next Tuesday’s talk is on research that I am doing about new(ish) forms of dead body disposal. These newer postmortem technologies will most certainly become more prevalent in the future and I will discuss their impact on the dead body.

Nothing says HOT HOT TUESDAY NIGHT to me like pictures of new machines which dissolve dead bodies.

Here is a full description for the talk.

Please check it out if you can.

Future Death: The Dead Human Body as Biomass

An Illustrated lecture with Dr. John Troyer
Deputy Director
Centre for Death and Society
University of Bath

Date: Tuesday April 19th
Time: 8:00
Admission: $5

 

As people become more and more interested in the environmental impacts of their daily lives, some individuals are asking: How green is death? What are the environmental impacts associated with handling the dead body? Dr. John Troyer, Deputy Director at the Centre for Death & Society, University of Bath, England, will discuss the environmental issues which surround current post-mortem options, from burial to cremation to biomass tissue digestion. Dr. Troyer will discuss new research exploring how heat-capture technology currently used at the Haycombe Crematorium in Bath reduces both mercury emissions and offers a potentially viable energy source for the local community.

Soylent Green isn’t just people. It’s now.

Categories
Cemeteries cremation Death + Technology Eco-Death Funeral Industry

The Ultimate in Going Green: New Research into Postmortem Options with John Troyer

Crematorium to Keep Mourners Warm by Burning Bodies of Loved Ones
The Daily Mail (January 08, 2008)

 

Eco-Death Articles and Information
Put Together by The Death Reference Desk Cadaver Team (Meg, Kim, and John)

So in January 2008, I read an article in the UK’s Daily Mail about a Manchester crematorium that captured its heat exhaust, filtered out mercury and other problematic materials, and then re-used the heat for keeping the attached chapel warm. The Daily Mail is a notoriously scandal mongering tabloid so it was clear that this story was supposed to cause some kind of outrage. The problem for the Mail was this: no one complained about what the crematorium was doing and, more importantly, people really liked the idea.

I read this article while I was still living in America and well before I knew that I would end up working for the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath.

But then I got my current job at the University of Bath and one of the first things I did was start a project which examined how Bath’s local crematorium, Haycombe Cemetery and Crematorium, used heat capture technology.

This is a drastically shortened version of a story which has taken me on postmortem adventures that I never imagined.

So on December 21, 2010 at the Bryant-Lake Bowl Theatre in Minneapolis I am giving a talk about these adventures along with a broader look at the topic of ecologically friendly forms of final disposition.

Or, finding a greener shade of death.

The Bell Museum of Natural History’s Cafe Scientifique program is presenting the talk and I am extremely honored by this fact. Here is the official announcement:

The Ultimate in Going Green: New Research into Postmortem Options
Consumers are increasingly interested in the environmental impact of their personal choices, including their own end of life decisions. John Troyer, Deputy Director of the University of Bath’s Centre for Death and Society, will discuss the environmental impact of traditional burial and cremation practices, as well as new research into crematorium heat-capture technology which eliminates both mercury emissions and offers a potentially viable energy source.

 

Doors open at 6 p.m.
Food and Drink Available for Purchase
Tickets: $5-$12 Pay what you can
Call 612-825-8949 for reservations

 

ABOUT THIS MONTH’S SPEAKER

John Troyer received his doctorate from the University of Minnesota in Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society in May 2006. His Ph.D. dissertation, entitled “Technologies of the Human Corpse,” was awarded the University of Minnesota’s 2006 Best Dissertation Award in the Arts and Humanities. From 2007-2008 he was a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative Studies at The Ohio State University teaching the cultural studies of science and technology. John is currently the Deputy Director and Death and Dying Practices Associate for the University of Bath’s Centre for Death and Society. Within the field of Death Studies, he analyzes the global history of science and technology and its effects on the dead body. He is a co-founder of the critically acclaimed Death Reference Desk website (www.deathreferencedesk.org), a frequent commentator for the BBC, and his first book, Technologies of the Human Corpse (University of North Carolina Press), will appear in 2012.

The University of Bath’s Centre for Death & Society is the UK’s only centre devoted to the study and research of social aspects of death, dying and bereavement. It provides a centre for the social study of death, dying and bereavement and acts as a catalyst and facilitator for research, education and training, policy development, media, and community awareness.

 

ABOUT CAFE SCIENTIFIQUE

The Bell Museum’s Café Scientifique is a program for adults that brings research from the University of Minnesota and beyond into some of the Twin Cities’ most unique and atmospheric bars and restaurants. The Bell Museum’s Café Scientifique explores science and natural history from distinct and surprising viewpoints, drawing connections between scientific research, culture, environment and everyday life.

Café Scientifique is co-sponsored by the Bryant-Lake Bowl.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
The Bell Museum of Natural History

Categories
Burial Cemeteries Death + Popular Culture Eco-Death Funeral Industry

Green Burial: A Review

Eco-friendly or “green” burial methods and practices are the hot topic in the funeral industry and mortuary sciences these days. Everywhere you turn, there is a new book, article or news report on the subject. There is even a Green Burial Council, which touts itself as “an independent, tax-exempt, nonprofit organization working to encourage environmentally sustainable deathcare and the use of burial as a new means of protecting natural areas.” And while the topic has received much attention in popular culture, acceptance of the various practices haven’t reached the all important “tipping point” for true integration into society—at least not yet anyway.

There are literally thousands of links out on the Internet referring collectively to the green burial movement. In doing a quick Google search using the following terms, this gives you a sense of the green burial chatter out there (numbers are rounded up):

“green burial” = 45,000 hits
“eco-friendly burial” = 35,000 hits
“natural burial” = 37,000 hits

So I thought it might be a good idea to review the various final disposition methods considered or referred to as green, natural or eco-friendly. There are actually quite a few different options out there although many funeral homes or mortuaries may only offer one option if they even offer any at all. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list but rather, an overview of some of the most common green body disposition and burial methods. I am making a distinction about the two categories as the former is about how the body is dealt with at final disposition and the latter is about choices made about final placement of the remains.

Disposition of the Body

Promession: The body is frozen to minus 18 degrees Celsius and then subjected in liquid nitrogen. This makes the body fragile. It is then vibrated which causes it to break down into an organic powder. Then it is introduced into a vacuum chamber where the water is evaporated. The now dry powder passes through a metal separator where any metals and mercury are removed. The remains are now ready to be laid in a coffin made of corn starch. The coffin is then buried in a shallow grave in living soil. As a result the coffin and its contents turn into compost in about 6-12 months. A bush or tree can be planted above the coffin. The compost formed can then be taken up by the plant, which can instill greater insight and respect for the ecological cycle. The plant stands as a symbol of the deceased. Source: Promessa

Alkaline Hydrolysis: Alkaline hydrolysis, also known as Resomation (which is a trademarked term) is a process that liquefies rather than burns body tissues. It uses about a sixth of the energy of cremation and has a much smaller carbon footprint, according to Sandy Sullivan, the managing director of Resomation, a company in Scotland that has designed a machine called “the Resomator”. The corpse is placed in a pressurized chamber. The vessel is then filled with water and potassium hydroxide, creating a highly alkaline solution, and heated to 330 degrees. After about three hours, all that’s left are a soft, white calcium phosphate from bone and teeth and a light brown primordial soup of amino acids and peptides. Bodies buried underground decompose in the same way, albeit over many years and aided by microorganisms. Unlike cremation, Resomation doesn’t vaporize the toxic mercury of dental fillings and doesn’t char joint implants, leaving them clean, shiny and potentially recyclable. The bone and tooth material can be ground into a fine ash, as with traditional cremains. The brown liquid, because it’s sterile, can go down the drain. Currently used on research cadavers and diseased animal carcasses, there are various companies exploring the commercial use of alkaline hydrolysis in the disposition of human corpses. Source: The Ninth Annual Year in Ideas (New York Times Magazine)

Embalming-free: Currently, no state or province in North America automatically demands the embalming of bodies. When preservation of the body is specified by state ordinance, refrigeration, chilling or dry ice can often be substituted for embalming. Special circumstances such as an extended time between death and burial, and transportation of remains on commercial airline flights may necessitate embalming. The body can be refrigerated instead of being embalmed with toxic chemicals. If refrigeration isn’t available, ice or dry ice can be used to preserve the body until burial. Embalming fluid is usually comprised of the carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde, which poses health risks to those who work with it. For those who choose embalming, there are now several formaldehyde-free embalming fluids that will adequately preserve the body for up to several weeks. Source: aGreenerFuneral.org

Placement of the Body

Green Cemeteries: A green gravesite is a natural setting more closely resembling a forest floor. Green cemeteries are park-like or woodland/forest settings with acres of natural topography. The natural or green burial method starts with the body preparation which uses no embalming fluid or a nonformaldehyde-based formula. If there’s a headstone, it’s a rock or a piece of rough-cut limestone that’s flat on one side to identify the deceased. Some people plant a tree on the spot. Some methods use GPS coordinates to spot a grave’s location. Caskets are made of wood, plywood, bamboo, cardboard, cornstarch or wicker, etc. Sometimes a shroud or quilt may be used to wrap the body.

Backyard Burial: Not all backyard or personal property burials utilize biodegradable caskets/coffins or involve wrapping the body in cloth or shrouds. However, by choosing backyard burial, families do not contribute to the high maintenance costs and pesticide-laden practices at traditional cemeteries. Perhaps the most well-known burial on personal property is that of the Presley family at Graceland in Memphis, TN. Each state has different laws regarding personal property or backyard burials. Source: various

Biodegradable Coffins: There are numerous biodegradable coffin/casket choices. Some of the most common materials used are bamboo, willow, pine, seagrass, cane, recycled paper and cardboard, untreated jute and natural resin and banana leaf. Unlike traditional caskets which may be made of steel or rare hardwoods and employ fixatives/varnishes, metal hinges, rubber gaskets and paint, biodegradable coffins are made of organic materials, allowing for easy breakdown and decomposition into the soil. Source: Natural Burial Company, ecoffinsUSA et al.

Reef Balls: Reef balls are artificially-designed reefs. They are hollow, concrete structures that are placed on the ocean floor and serve as habitat for marine life. Cremains are mixed with the concrete as the reef ball is being cast. Once hardened, they are transported out to sea via boat where friends and family members are able to participate in a sending off ceremony. Eternal Reefs is one of a small number of companies offering memorial reef balls. The largest “green memorial” in the United States is located in Sarasota, Florida where several hundred Eternal Reefs Memorial Reefs are dedicated. Eternal Reefs have been placed in many locations including waters off of New Jersey, the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, South Carolina, Florida and Texas. Reff balls are only allowed in properly permitted locations that are approved by the Federal, State, and local governments. The Reef Ball Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) publicly supported non-profit organization that functions as an international environmental non-governmental organization. The foundation uses Reef Ball artificial reef technology, combined with coral propagation, transplant technology, public education and community training to build, restore and protect coral reefs. The foundation has established “Reef Ball reefs” in over 56 countries with ongoing projects in 14 additional countries. Source: Eternal Reefs, Reef Ball Foundation

Further investigation

Books:

Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial by Mark Harris
Going Out Green: One Man’s Adventure Planning His Natural Burial by Bob Butz
Grave Expectations: Planning the End Like There’s No Tomorrow by Sue Bailey

Links: Green Burial Council, Centre for Natural Burial, Natural Death Centre

Categories
Burial Death + Art / Architecture Eco-Death

Skyscraper Burial in Mumbai

Vertical Cemetery is a Greenery Clad Final Resting Place for Mumbai
Yuka Yoneda, Inhabit.com (September 28, 2010)

We’ve posted before about vertical burial — that is, placing corpses in upright containers for burial in the ground standing up. The proposed Moksha Tower in Mumbai takes this concept to a whole new level by providing burial space in a skyscraper, giving “burial” and memorial options in a physical space while conserving precious horizontal green space that might otherwise be used for parks — or housing for the living.

While this design is clearly not in any spiritual tradition, the Moksha Tower attempts to appeal to the four major religious groups in Mumbai. According to an article from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the tower “acts as a symbolic link between heaven and earth”:

For Muslims, it provides areas for funerals and space for garden burial; for Christians, areas for funerals and burial; for Hindus, facilities for cremation and a river to deposit a portion; for Parsis, a tower of silence is located on the roof of the tower.

Categories
Burial Death + Popular Culture Death + Technology Death Ethics Eco-Death

Prepare for Death and Follow Me…into Outer Space

Death In Space
Mary Roach, Boing Boing (September 02, 2010)

Wherever living humans go, the possibility of dead human bodies follows. It is the fullest expression of mortality’s inherent fragility.

So, when humans finally travel into space for extended periods of time without the luxury of a quickish return to Earth, dead body contingencies need to be thought through.This is especially true for any eventual trips to Mars, which may or may not involve establishing colonies.

Here’s the rub: NASA does not appear to have plans on what to do if an astronaut dies during a mission. Or the plans, if they exist, are not available to the public. I came across some news articles on this apparent planning gap, and it appears that NASA planners haven’t really taken seriously the possibility of an astronaut’s death during an extended voyage or what to do with a dead body during a mission.

This is not a minor point. Returning the dead body and its remnants to next of kin is standard procedure for US governmental operations; NASA space missions are no different. Yet during long or arduous expeditions dead bodies are often left behind, if for any reason, bringing the corpse back is too difficult and/or actually endangers fellow team members. Climbers who die on Mt. Everest are routinely left behind where they fall, not out of malice but out of necessity.

Enter into all of this, then, Mary Roach. Many of you will know Roach from her books Stiff, Spook, and Boink. She has also just written a new book entitled Packing for Mars, on exploring the red planet. Earlier this month, she wrote a short piece for Boing Boing about death in space and what might be done with a dead body. Oddly, Mary Roach’s work has popped up in a few different places the last few weeks.

Here is the lead from Mary Roach’s essay for Boing Boing:

The U.S. has plans for a manned visit to Mars by the mid-2030s. The ESA and Russia have sketched out a similar joint mission, and it is claimed that China’s space program has the same objective. Apart from their destination, all these plans share something in common: extraordinary danger for the explorers. What happens if someone dies out there, months away from Earth?

Roach discusses a plan developed by the Swedish environmentalist/burial innovator Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak and collaborator Peter Mäsak. Many readers of Stiff will remember Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak and her innovation called Promession. In a nutshell, the proposed system would reduce the dead body’s size and volume, thereby making it simpler to transport back to Earth. The full proposal (which is being developed with NASA) should be read to fully glean how this system would work.

What Wiigh-Mäsak and NASA are proposing is fine…but leaving the body in space would still be simpler. Indeed, the main reason to keep a body on hand after death would be for a postmortem examination to determine the Cause of Death and to see if the other astronauts were at risk for some previously unknown pathogen. That said, if an autopsy is not possible because of weaker gravitational pull and/or after a successful postmortem exam takes place, then the body is best given a respectful burial in space. I would rather see NASA develop plans for final disposition in space than a spaceship’s crew trying to make room for a dead colleague.

Besides, I have a hunch that any person who dies in space will probably want to stay in the ether.

Per usual, science fiction has already offered up one example of what a proper burial in outer space could resemble (see the vid at top).

Categories
Burial Eco-Death

Burial Goes Vertical

Aussie Undertakers Turn Funeral Business on Its Head… by Offering to Bury People Upright
Foreign News Service, Daily Mail Online (December 7, 2009)

Just when you thought there were enough options for final disposition, a company in Melbourne, Australia, invents a trolley that will cart around a corpse then deposit it vertically with minimal blunder into a narrow hole. The new six feet under is ten feet deep and two feet wide; bodies are sheathed in biodegradable sacks. Not only does this make it “eco-friendly,” such Upright Burials (the name of the company) would take up less real estate in space-sore cemeteries. As it is, the burials will be performed in a designated field outside of Melbourne that, once full, will be converted back into pasture.

Absent a coffin and the all fuss of a headstone (names are instead inscribed in a memorial wall), burial packages are about 60 percent cheaper than the average traditional burial. According to the Daily Mail Online article,

But Mr Dupleix [the company director] believes principle rather than price is the main reason for interest in vertical plots.

He said: “Most people are attracted by the simplicity of the project and the concept of being far more in touch with nature.”

You know… targeting poor people doesn’t automatically make you a jerk. And if that isn’t true, then it’s definitely true that greenwashing poverty (not to mention death) is a one-way ticket to more than 10 feet deep.

Categories
cremation Eco-Death

Putting Death Down the Drain

Dying to Be Green? Try “Bio-Cremation”
Nicole Mordant, Reuters (December 1, 2009)

There’s a shiny new final disposition in town, attempting to gain ground on the green burial bandwagon: Resomation, developed in Scotland in 2007, also known as bio-cremation.

Cremation is consistently flogged for its high energy consumption and resulting pollutants. Bio-cremation, on the other hand, uses “less than a tenth of the amount of natural gas and a third of the electricity,” by means of a chemical process involving alkaline hydrolysis.

According to the Reuters article, all that remains is “some bone residue and a syrupy brown liquid that is flushed down the drain. The bones can be crushed and returned to the family as with cremation.”

This last bit seems to be the only real relation to cremation: loved ones receive a packet of bone fragments which people may bury, memorialize on the mantle, put into tattoos, shoot into space, fire into diamonds, et cetera.

Human remains inside the resomation chamber at the Mayo Clinic, by Finn O'Hara Photography.

Wait, did that say the syrupy brown liquid of death is flushed down the drain? Indeed it does. Resomated bodies are as natural as any other human waste we routinely put through the pipes. Predictably, this makes some people uncomfortable, such as Catholics, who thwarted a move to introduce bio-cremation in New York a couple years ago, citing it “not a respectful way to dispose of human remains.”

Fair enough, though just as arguably, cremation or burial are not respectful ways of treating the earth. Given the significant energy savings and pollution avoidance, environmentalism may very well prevail — plus, you can retrieve and recycle metal parts, like hip and knee replacements. I just hope they can settle on a name that isn’t obtuse, misleading or trademarked.