I’ve been really clear forever that, should I have to make the deathcare decisions for me or my husband, we’d be burned up like a marshmallow in a campfire before you can even blink–I’ve long liked the idea of not being buried in a traditional sense, not leaving a legacy of expenses and toxic choices and permanent maintenance behind. Cremation has been especially attractive because of the low cost and fuss.
(This, incidentally, is *thisclose* to changing. I still love the idea of being sprinkled in meaningful places, but natural burial and The Urban Death Project are really turning my head these days!)
I, however, am mom to two teenagers. And I’m equally clear that if I were faced with making deathcare decisions for them now, I could not choose to have their precious bodies, the shells I housed and grew for them, consumed by violent jets of fire. (Sounds lovely, right?)
For their bodies, natural burial would be the most obvious option, because of the peace and care of it, the harmony of the process. But what if I moved away in the future, or became unable to keep their spot at Eloise Woods up? What about memorial jewelry or sprinkling in special locations or keeping a portion of their bodies with me still–all of which, I think, would help me heal, none of which would be possible without cremation. But how to get cremation’s benefits without the fire?
Enter Alkaline Hydrolysis.
Alkaline hydrolysis, also known as bio cremation, behaves much like flame cremation, in that it dissolves the liquid portions of the body, and returns only the parts that remain–in this case, bones processed to a powder in much the same way as remains from flame cremation. Alkaline hydrolysis mimics and expedites the natural decomposition process using water, hotter temperatures, and alkaline solutions in a specially designed chamber, rendering the body into bones and a soup of sterile liquid that can easily and safely be disposed of in standard sewer systems, no more risky than other liquid household waste.
Photo credit: Gail Rubin, A Good Goodbye
Alkaline hydrolysis, like all new technology, has faced a bit of an uphill climb in gaining adoption in the US, hampered in no small part by resistance from the traditional industry providers, exacerbated by state regulations that continue to protect the burial-and-flame-cremation-only status quo.
Slowly, though, acceptance and more widespread use are coming. Alkaline hydrolysis is legal in 10 states now, with laws under consideration in many more. Joining the University of Florida and the Mayo Clinic, UCLA Medical School has recently converted from using flame cremation to alkaline hydrolysis for its cadavers and research donations.
Alkaline hydrolysis may be costly to implement, especially for funeral providers who already have their own flame-cremation units, but providers may find it far cheaper to operate long term, which should help to speed implementation.
Beyond the more gentle process, the environmental benefits of alkaline hydrolysis are compelling. Flame cremations in the US use enough energy to travel to the moon and back eighty three times, every single year. All those fossil fuels, all the emissions and vaporized chemicals, spewing into the atmosphere every time someone is cremated–all could be avoided by using alkaline hydrolysis.
Burial or flame cremation only? There is a better way, probably several better ways. Is alkaline hydrolysis what you would choose? Perhaps, perhaps not. But it’s time that the holders of status quo get out of the way and allow the innovation, to open up the largest range of options possible for everyone.