When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Body disposal - the greenest options?

I've blogged about body disposal before, including freeze-drying, ossuaries, 'bio-cremation' and 'green' burial. With population increase comes the increasing problem of what to do with corpses, when space is limited. Britain and Japan (for obvious reasons) favour cremation more than most other countries. In an article in The Conversation, Professor Robert Young of the University of Salford writes that about 80% of the British request cremation due to lack of space, but I don't think that this is strictly true. It was the reason that cremation was originally introduced to Great Britain in the late 19th century, when municipal cemeteries were full. There was a lot of resistance to the idea at the time, mainly from the churches, but the Cremation Act was passed in 1902. It's true that it's a popular choice now, but I think that this has less to do with a shortage of burial space than with a general reluctance to stand beside an open grave at a funeral, which some people find repellent. Cremation happens inside a nice warm building where the coffin disappears behind the scenes so you don't have to think too hard about what's happening to it. Silly, but out of sight, out of mind, is a common attitude.

I was interested in one point made by the professor in his article; that the energy used to cremate one person is equal to the energy they use in one month when alive. "In the UK this translates to a yearly energy consumption of a town of 16,000 people."

When I filled in the forms for my body bequest, I requested the burial of my remains when the students have finished with them. I had a choice between burial or cremation. Other options, such as freeze-drying, would be either too complicated or expensive for the medical school, I assume. However, if there's a glut of cadavers when I pop my clogs and they reject my body, my nearest and dearest will have to organise a funeral. Since a funeral pyre in the back garden is probably out of the question, an alternative must be chosen. I trust them to make the best choice, considering cost and climate change. This is one decision I'm happy to avoid.