Encouraging Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Conventional Methods in the Death Care Industry

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Lindsay Becker
Kurt Dershem
Environmental Ethics
4 April 2013
Encouraging Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Conventional Methods in the Death Care Industry
There are over 7 billion people living on this planet today and in one hundred years, almost every single person will have died. After a person dies, what happens to them? The question may be misleading because it is not asking about the afterlife for the individual; the question is asking about the person’s remains after passing. An uncomfortable topic for most people, but it is an important topic for those wishing to make changes in how we have affected, and continue to affect the earth after death. There has been a great push in recent years to curb the excessive amount of waste that humans produce in their lifetime. Many people are “turning over a new leaf” and trying to lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle. All of these changes have been slowly gaining mainstream attention, but there is a major component that is being overlooked. The problem is that humans continue to pollute the earth, even after death. Eco-friendly options are available, and should be utilized, as alternatives to the conventional practices in the modern death care industry. A general funeral service in the United States includes preparation of the body through embalming and other preservation techniques, the use of a casket, a viewing and funeral service for friends and family, and burial in a cemetery. Some individuals opt for cremation, but in 2003, only 30% of Americans were cremated (Kim). Each part of the process is an opportunity for waste to be created and unnecessary steps to be taken, including steps that could cost the family of the deceased hundreds, even thousands, of dollars that don’t need to be spent. The process of embalming is mostly credited to ancient Egyptians, who developed the technique for religious (preserving the body for the return of the soul) and sanitation (Nile flooding often caused bodies that were buried to wash up from the Nile valley) reasons. The technique has come a long way from its humble beginnings of removing the organs, packing the body with resin, immersion in sodium salt for 20-70 days, dehydration in the hot sun, and ending with wrapping the body in strips of cloth (Rostad). Currently, the process includes an almost equally barbaric nature of which most consumers have no understanding. According to Mark Harris in his book, Grave Matters, the preparation for embalming starts with a disinfectant and germicidal hose-down to destroy any bacteria or pathogens on the skin of the deceased. Wads of cotton or plastic plugs are inserted into the body’s openings to prevent leaking. The faces of men, women, and even children are shaved to enhance the effectiveness of the makeup. The body is set into position prior to injection with embalming fluid because the fluid makes the body hard and immobile. Caps are placed over the eyeballs to prevent the eyelids from sinking in and the eyelids are sewn or glued shut. The lips are also sealed, but only after the throat is thoroughly packed with absorbent material to soak up reflux and the jaws are wired into place. The first stage includes the drainage of blood from the body and replacement with a liquid mixture to keep the body from decomposing. Formalin is injected into an artery and the mixture of formaldehyde, phenol, and dye is pumped through the circulatory system until all of the blood is replaced with preservative. The second stage is injecting embalming fluid into the cavities, which is accomplished by shoving a sharp, hollow tube into the abdomen and suctioning the contents out while pumping formalin in. Finishing touches such as makeup application and hairdressing enhance the effects of embalming and the end product is a temporarily preserved human body (17-25). All of the actions described are used to create a short-lived illusion of peace for the deceased person’s friends and family, but at what cost? The...
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