it was dan‘s birthday a few days ago, so i spent some time at the cemetery, and it occurred to me that i don’t like either of the most common options for disposing of our bodies when we’re through with them.

the “good christian burial”, as i understand it, came about because of the belief in the resurrection of the body. according to this belief, when this world ends, everyone is to be physically lifted from the grave to face judgment. ((when i was in portugal, i went to a monastery in which a king and queen had been buried, and i thought it was wonderfully romantic that they’d arranged to have their tombs positioned with the feet facing one another so that when judgment day came, they could rise to face one another and be lifted to heaven in each other’s arms.)) even if you count this among your beliefs, you have to admit that god will need to do some reconstructive surgery on everyone before the party starts. what about people who were blown to pieces in an explosion? what about those buried for centuries in wooden coffins that were no match in fortitude to our modern airtight metal ones?

burial doesn’t make sense from the religious perspective, yet it’s been adopted even by non-christians. why? i suppose it’s because it gives us a single place to come back to and mourn. (which, from my experience of grief, could just as easily be a monument without a grave attached. the person’s hardly there any more than anywhere else just because his bones are there.) but why the metal coffin? unless we really believe that we can physically take it with us and a metal box will stave off decay forever, we’re just cluttering the earth.

the other commonly-used option is cremation. this makes better sense in an ever-shrinking world; a vase takes up far less space than a burial plot, and can be emptied and the ashes returned to the environment if the deceased wished it. but i have misgivings about this as well; a pile of ashes is not as useful to nature as a body with its flesh intact.

what was nature’s way of handling death before humans started inflicting their arbitrary ideas on it? that a dead body lays on the ground so it can be available for the nurturing of other living things. nature had recycling down long before yuppies embraced it. then people came along, developed brains, and decided they were too important to take part in the process, that their tissues weren’t just on loan to them from the world, but that they possessed them and had the right to decide what happened to them.

even in death, they selfishly clung to bodies they no longer had any use for. it’s no different than if i were to change addresses, and board up my old home so no one else could use it. i can’t use it anymore, and it could provide shelter for someone who needs it, but damn it, it’s mine, and no one else can have it!

i started wondering what restrictions our laws place on what heirs can do with their friend’s body. are wooden coffins which allow for easy biodegradation still allowed? even if they are, why take up a plot of land that could be used for some other purpose? for myself, i’d like to have all the organs that can be used by medicine or science harvested, and the remains taken into the woods and left on the ground for the animals, plants, and bacteria they could nurture.

i suppose steps would have to be taken to avoid the body being discovered, reported to the police, and subjected to investigation and all the attendant silliness.

08/03/2004 update

someone wrote to say he’d read this page and had been thinking along the same lines. he prompted me to take a look around the web and see if there were any resources related to this issue. sure enough, other people have wanted the same things, and industries have been born to provide them with them. i’ll just make some links to google searches so the information doesn’t become outdated:

first: burial biodegrade. this gave me leads to the available options. burial biodegradable led to specific pieces of biodegradable equipment (urns, etc.).

it seems there are two types of services offered. the first is what i had in mind, and is called a green burial or natural burial. the other is something i hadn’t considered, sea burial.

natural burial seems to be a popular alternative in the u.k., but is little-known in the u.s. one sea burial company even offers this pessimistic faq:

Can an uncremated body legally be buried at sea in the United States?

The simple answer to this is yes. There are many restrictions and requirements, however, the least of which concern maritime issues. Many county health departments will not release a body to a captain for sea burial. While this issue could probably be overcome, the cost and time spent attempting to win a decision against a government agency could be oppressive.

if you think one of these alternatives is for you, you may want to check with your local government to see where they stand. if they say they won’t let your mourners carry out your wishes, it may be time to start some political gears in motion and gets some letters off to your local editor.

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2 thoughts on “disposal

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