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That looks like an OK way to dispose of a body

I wouldn’t mind someday having my corpse disposed of by freezing, shattering, and dessicating it prior to composting, but I don’t know that it’s the best way.

The process is simple. Within a week and a half after death, the corpse is frozen to minus 18 degrees Celsius and then submerged in liquid nitrogen. This makes the body very brittle and vibration of a specific amplitude transforms it into an organic powder that is then introduced into a vacuum chamber where the water is evaporated away.

The now dry powder passes through a metal separator where any surgical spare parts and mercury (from old tooth fillings) are removed. The remains are now ready to be laid in a coffin made of corn starch. The organic powder, which is hygienic and odourless, does not decompose when kept dry. The burial takes place in a shallow grave in living soil that turns the coffin and its contents into compost in about 6-12 months’ time. In conjunction with the burial and in accordance with the wishes of the deceased or next of kin, a bush or tree can be planted above the coffin.

Unfortunately, the story is a little too credulous and not quite critical enough. It’s billed as a more eco-friendly method of body disposal than cremation, but I was wondering throughout about how the energy costs of generating and maintaining large amounts of liquid nitrogen, of large scale vibration of specific frequencies, and of pumping out all the water in the fragments would compare to burning. None of that is free, you know; that it’s all out of sight at a distant electrical power generation plant doesn’t mean it has no cost.

There’s also this weird squeamish tone about how one advantage is that you can bypass all that icky rotting business. What’s wrong with decay? The modern funeral business is all about pumping the body with toxic preservatives and burying it in a sealed concrete vault, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Wouldn’t the real eco-friendly way of death be to drop bodies where condors or sharks could eat them?

I think I’d rather my meat were used to feed the sharks, and especially the hagfish and deep sea bacteria. Fling my corpse out of a boat over a deep trench, let me drift down getting nibbled and shredded as I go, and let my bones rest artfully on the sea floor, feeding crustaceans and fish and all that wonderful oceanic diversity. That seems like the least harmful way to dispose of this mortal frame.

Comments

  1. says

    Don’t the Indian Zoroastrians do that? I know it’s been mentioned as a problem when they emigrate to places, because it’s a very different method of disposal than many other places are used to, with the weird reverence for the decomposing remains that most cultures seem to have.

    I don’t get that, at all. I never have. I don’t get why we all have to stop driving so people can drive through town following a car-load of (slowly) rotting meat, so that prime densification-friendly real estate in the centre of towns can be kept for…the rotting meat and some carved stones, all tax-free, of course, because religion! hurrah!

    Me, I’m down for full medical donation – if they want my meatsuit as a body farm experiment, then cool, if they want my bits to make other people happier, also cool. I’m done with it at that point, and don’t reckon I mind being used to either advance knowledge and/or make lives better/longer.

  2. Nick Gotts says

    My body’s destined for use in medical education, provided I die in convenient reach of the university I’ve promised it to, and they’re able to take it at the time. I ought to think about what I want done in case that’s not possible (or indeed, after the students have finished with it). Cremation has its disadvantages – even if they take the fillings out of my teeth, it’s going to put some mercury into the air; but land for burial is in short supply in most UK cities.

  3. AussieMike says

    You only want to do that so the great squid god can grapple you in its loving tentacles and merge with your consciousness.

  4. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    Burn me and chuck what’s left into the sea.

    I’m pretty sure that there are 101 laws against a sky burial in London!

  5. embertine says

    I agree – personally, I would prefer my corpse be stripped by any scientists or doctors who can find useful bits, and the rest put through an idustrial shredder to go into a giant compost heap with all the other organic waste.

    As a landscaper, I rather like the idea that the molecules that were me might go into nourishing a lovely tree, or some delicious veggies.

  6. coragyps says

    “and let my bones rest artfully on the sea floor, feeding crustaceans and fish and all that wonderful oceanic diversity…”

    Osedax food. Best fate ever.

  7. The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical says

    I’d quite like my body to be worm/eagle/shark/something food. I find it vaguely gross that so many efforts are taken to remove human meat out of the life cycle, such as by pumping it full of preservatives to ward off the decomposition work of microbes. I’ve been benefitting from the soil and the rest of nature all these years. Now they should get some benefit from what’s left. Why throw away or poison perfectly good nutrients?

    But I definitely like PZ’s thought better than all that trouble to reduce my corpse to powder.

  8. Reginald Selkirk says

    It’s billed as a more eco-friendly method of body disposal than cremation, but…

    How about cremation where the heat is used to turn a turbine?
    Or perhaps you could look into natural burial.

  9. jamessweet says

    , but I was wondering throughout about how the energy costs

    Yep, my thought exactly. If we had cheap, plentiful, truly clean electricity — and I’m NOT going to name any ideas, for fear of stirring the Pharyngulated pot, let’s just pretend it’s science fiction-caliber fusion — then yeah this sounds great. But if the energy for freezing and vacuuming you is coming from coal or natural gas, like most of our power, eh, probably the carbon emissions indirectly incurred by this process far outweigh any ecological advantages.

  10. ekwhite says

    I would like a Tibetan Sky Burial myself, but I am going to donate my body to science, if I can. How does one do that? I have checked off the organ donor box on my driver’s license, but I assume I need to do more.

  11. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Shameless plug.
    I have a better idea: donate your body to science. There couldn’t be a more natural and energy-efficient way to go. Plus, SCIENCE.

  12. Ysanne says

    Just dump into the ocean? And what of the poor marine animal that ruptures its stomach on your titanium hip replacement?
    The eco-friendliness of this whole dying business is a bit of an issue.
    Cremation releases a bunch of pretty harmful stuff (Germany has a macabre bit of regulation regarding filters), and it’s not like human bodies make great fuel for power generation: crematories don’t use one customer to keep the fire burning for the next, and that’s not out of piety.
    Sky burials… great idea but not for places without a suitable population of vultures.
    Composting and growing flowers and trees is romantic, but even before being embalmed, most people from developed countries end up comparable to toxic waste that you wouldn’t just bury in your back yard and hope to become good soil, with all the pacemaker batteries, dental fillings and medications we manage to accumulate leading up to death. So at least the re-usable and/or problematic type of stuff will have to come out first, and having cut up the body to that point, there’s no real point in being extra-careful with what’s left, so it could just as well be used for the organic matter it is (just like the non-meat, non-leather remains of dead animals are).
    There’s a bit of a Soylent Green aspect to it, but so what, it’s not like the details of “worm food” are any less gross…

  13. says

    I looked into making a medical donation of my body to NYU, which was my dream school (to which my parents would not permit me to apply). I wanted to have “I always wanted to go to NYU!” tattooed on my abdomen posthumously, hoping some future medical students would get a kick out of it.

    Unfortunately, NYU will not accept your corpse if any organs have been harvested for donation—and I would much prefer that my body be used to sustain the living. So now my directive reads that if for some reason my organs cannot be taken, off to NYU I finally go. :D

  14. Ysanne says

    Oh and re donating to science: No idea how it is in the US, but I’ve heard that German universities say they’ve really got enough bodies and don’t really need all that many new ones as they are offered.

  15. Sili says

    How about cremation where the heat is used to turn a turbine?

    It’s been suggested here occasionally because of the high gas prices, but people always get up in arms about it. The latest brouhahah has been over six-to-the-wagon hearses to reduce the cost of transportation to crematoria.

    –o–

    Anyway, I want my corpse to get nailed to my frontdoor to scare off the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the scouts.

  16. Larry says

    Quoting the late Ed Abbey from Desert Solitaire:

    If my decomposing carcass helps nourish the roots of a juniper tree or the wings of a vulture–that is immortality enough for me. And as much as anyone deserves.

    There is another passage from the same book that I remember, but can’t currently find, about dying out in the desert, having one’s mortal remains dry up, and blow away into the wind across the vast canyons of the southwest. Its quite evocative and it always seemed to me to be a great way to go.

  17. The Beautiful Void says

    I’m a registered organ donor; any bits that are left over after that should be used to make a full-sized skeleton marionette to terrify children. Or not. Whatever my descendants feel is appropriate, really; it’s not like I’m going to be conscious for it.

    I will add, however, that for all of PZ’s fondness for the ocean and his worship of the great dark leviathans that drift endlessly through the abyss awaiting the day of their return study of sea life, he seems to have chosen to dwell as far away from them as possible. Perhaps he knows something we don’t.

  18. sowellfan says

    I’ve got some big doubts about how well ‘specific vibrations’ would work, for reducing a body to a powder. Admittedly I don’t have much experience with liquid nitrogen and powdering objects, but I’m reminded of the Mythbuster’s episode where they investigated the myth of a head shattering, after being frozen in liquid nitrogen. They used a pig head, and it froze nicely, but it didn’t shatter well at all.

  19. ledasmom says

    I like the forensic-science idea (I’ve got some forms around here I have to get signed and sent). There’s at least one place where your family can go visit your skeleton, which is neat. Well, I think it’s neat. I think it would have been really cool, as a child, to go see a skeleton and be told “That’s Great-Grandpa”.
    I seem to remember that certain churchyards were renowned for the voraciousness of the flesh-eaters therein – this shortened the time until the skeletons could be dug up and put wherever they put skeletons in that particular location. You didn’t exactly keep your place in the ground, back then; you were a strictly temporary resident.

  20. Raucous Indignation says

    I wish to be mulched and spread over the Yankee Stadium infield. Preferably in the midst of a Yankee Red Sox game by my grieving children.

  21. says

    I can’t help but think of Chairman Yang’s quote from Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, when you build the recycling tanks:

    It is every citizen’s final duty to go into the tanks, and become one with all the people.

  22. leftwingfox says

    I kind of like my friend’s last wishes. “I want my ashes brewed into a weak tea and served to my enemies.”

  23. says

    Yeah, one of the little things I liked about Dune was the whole “the body’s water belongs to the tribe” concept, and though he sort of glossed over exactly how that happened, it really set me in my ideas about the sheer selfishness of poisoning one’s flesh before putting it in the ground, like a long-term post-terminal way of saying ‘fuck you very much for providing nourishment and energy and that, nyah nyah’ to the world and its people.

    Admittedly, I’m something of an extremist on the topic, but I’ve known that for a while, and I’m cool with it. And I don’t actually spend any energy advocating for the world to behave the way I thought it ought (in this regard, anyway), so, yeah, cool with it.

  24. helmutmonotreme says

    I want to combine the viking longship burial, where a corpse is loaded onto a burning longship and set adrift, and a sky burial. Perhaps if my corpse were suspended beneath a small airship and released to follow the winds…

  25. says

    Perhaps if my corpse were suspended beneath a small airship and released to follow the winds…

    Then halfway through the line breaks and your corpse becomes a surprise guest at somebody’s pool party.
    You know, that almost sounds like a scene from Weekend at Bernie’s :)

  26. says

    I like the idea of becoming compost — I have this image of planting an apple tree over my grave, with a sign nearby saying “Eat me!” — but it just ain’t gonna happen. The level of chemicals Americans are exposed to in their food and environment is so high that no regulatory agency actually doing its job would permit human remains to re-enter the ecological cycle.

  27. helmutmonotreme says

    Then halfway through the line breaks and your corpse becomes a surprise guest at somebody’s pool party.
    You know, that almost sounds like a scene from Weekend at Bernie’s :)

    Feature, not bug.

  28. anuran says

    A friend who is currently in the terminal stages of cancer has already donated his body to a medical school. He even got a tattoo for the occasion. Right across his chest are the words:

    Hi! I’m XXX, and I’ll be your cadaver today

  29. ledasmom says

    leftwingfox @26:

    I kind of like my friend’s last wishes. “I want my ashes brewed into a weak tea and served to my enemies.”

    I’m picturing the enemies running away really fast: “No! Noooooooo! Not the tea!” and there’s someone running after them with a lovely tea set on a silver tray, carefully balanced.

  30. Stacey C. says

    Vat of Dermestid beetles and then an articulated skeleton donated to a school/museum. Though I totally would love to have my ashes served as weak tea to my enemies. That is a *great* line.

  31. Tethys says

    The level of chemicals Americans are exposed to in their food and environment is so high that no regulatory agency actually doing its job would permit human remains to re-enter the ecological cycle.

    I have heard versions of this my entire life, starting with “In the Vietnam War, the Americans were so full of preservatives that their bodies did not decompose.”

    I have never believed it though, as the idea that a body in the tropics somehow didn’t decompose seems laughable.
    Does anyone have any science that documents the supposed rot proof Americans?

    ____

    I am an organ donor, and I want whats left to be buried with no embalming in a plain wood box, or alternatively cremated and fed to my garden.

    My religious Mother freaked out at my wishes because she thinks that without a preserved body, Jesus won’t be able to raise me from the dead so we can all be together in heaven. I told her that since he was GAWD, reassembling my atoms should not be a problem.

  32. george gonzalez says

    Liquid Nitrogen only costs about 20 to 50 cents a liter, probably because it’s a side-product of making liquid oxygen.

    Still, getting dried out in a vacuum might be cheaper. One of our neighbors started up a business to dessicate people’s pets, so they could keep them around. A bit creepy.

  33. says

    By the time she died, my mother was a toxic waste dump. Seems like a bad idea to compost my dead mother. Still, there might be a way to make any human corpse into suitable compost.

    Cost is an issue. Funeral and burial costs are way out of hand. A big scam, a ripoff, if you ask me. For that reason alone, something needs to be done.

  34. says

    The Massai warrior princess did lead me to some interesting trivia about that culture.

    Apparently they consider it a bad sign if animals won’t eat a dead body so they often try to make it more appeasing to Hyenas and that. Only a small amount of people are given a burial

  35. gussnarp says

    I’ve heard, and I don’t know if it’s accurate at all, that the Seminole (or perhaps an earlier) tribe in Florida used to put their dead in canoes, paddle them out to a small island in the swamp, and leave them there.

    Given the problems with open air burials in densely populated areas, my first eco-friendly choice would be to simply be buried six feet deep with no embalming, but as that’s difficult if not outright illegal to do in many places, I’ll be donated to science. This unfortunately does mean that there’s likely to be some preservation of tissue with chemicals, followed by cremation of the final remains, which isn’t great, but at least some use will come of my corpse, and med students have to dissect something.

  36. says

    Ooh, I like that. No hyenas around here outside the zoos, and i suspect they’d think feeding the zoo-hyenas on long pig would be distressing to the kiddiewinkies, so maybe I can just ask to be disposed of by coyotes in the forests. Preferably after being lightly braised in a white wine sauce with shallots and aubergines.

  37. says

    Gregory in Seattle #31

    The level of chemicals Americans are exposed to in their food and environment is so high that no regulatory agency actually doing its job would permit human remains to re-enter the ecological cycle.

    Then there should be no impediment at all here in the U.S.

    PZ #38:

    Sorry, my ashes will only be suitable for strong tea.

    May it be strong, but never bitter.

  38. tfkreference says

    Check different universities for anatomy bequest programs. For example, the University of Minnesota accepts cadavers after organ donation – and cremates the remains when they’re done, either returning the ashes to a designee or burying them at a memorial in Minneapolis.

  39. robro says

    My wife, who has an…um…interest?…in funerary practices has told me numerous times that there is a group north of SF that buries bodies in cardboard coffins sans embalming so that nature takes it’s coarse. Sounds fine to me.

  40. karley jojohnston says

    I have a very simple request for my death. I wish to be stuffed and mounted at the Bass Pro Wildlife Museum in Branson, Missouri.

    Preferably astride one of the stuffed polar bears.

  41. Alex says

    I can just picture the stereotypical italian movie mafia guy ordering his minions to get the new equipment, “you , gets me one of dose whatsitcalled ultrasoundprofusors and some barrels of liquit nitrogen pronto, but do it quick or Ill dispose of you the old fashioned way. And while your at it, tell the concrete guy we dont need him anymore.

  42. atheist says

    I think I’d rather my meat were used to feed the sharks, and especially the hagfish and deep sea bacteria. Fling my corpse out of a boat over a deep trench, let me drift down getting nibbled and shredded as I go, and let my bones rest artfully on the sea floor, feeding crustaceans and fish and all that wonderful oceanic diversity. That seems like the least harmful way to dispose of this mortal frame.

    Ceased to resist, given my goodbye
    drive my car into the ocean
    you think I’d dead, but I sail away
    on a wave of mutilation…

    I’ve kissed mermaids, rode el nino
    walked the sand with the crustaceans
    could find my way to Mariana
    on a wave of mutilation…

  43. madtom1999 says

    I’ve often wondered, should I have a terminal disease, rather than have a lethal injection I like to do a very very deep scuba dive and see all those things I’d normally only have a few moments to look at because of decompression requirements – so long as the equipment would return to the surface when I no longer need it.
    I could then eventually feed snot flowers like whales do.

  44. citizenjoe says

    I’m going back to medical school.
    I know the name of my own medical school cadaver–the hospital wristband had been left on–and I remain grateful to the donor, many years later.
    Getting parted out for transplants and dissections seems like a good way to stay useful while not otherwise working on projects.
    Joe

  45. says

    I think this is a good time to plug Ask a Mortician and The Order of The Good Death which seek to help remove the fear of death and get people talking about it. I really do not get the obsession many people have over preserving the body, via embalming and silly caskets that keep water and creepy crawlies out. I do not think many of the people that want this type of thing have really thought much about why the body must be preserved and kept from rotting (which is likely part of the problem, thinking about death is seen as some horrible, horrible weird thing). The dead will not mind.

  46. voidhawk says

    It annoys me that a body which has donated organs can’t be donated to science. I want people to help themselves to everything even vaguely useful, from the blood in my veins to the hairs on my head.

  47. eveningchaos says

    After attending a funeral this weekend for my good friends’ mother who died from a 2 year long fight with cancer. It made me think about how to dispose of our remains in an environmentally conscious way. I came across the Mushroom Death Suit. Check it out and tell me what you think.

    http://infinityburialproject.com/burial-suit

  48. =8)-DX says

    This is a good burial process. Allows us to divide the artificial nanobot-based shape-shifting killing machines from the humans.

  49. says

    After attending a funeral this weekend for my good friends’ mother who died from a 2 year long fight with cancer. It made me think about how to dispose of our remains in an environmentally conscious way. I came across the Mushroom Death Suit. Check it out and tell me what you think.

    Is there any reason we need to buy a product to dispose of ourselves? I’d rather be wrapped in some simple cloth and buried under a tree somewhere. I am not a big fan of the commercialization of death when when it is a nontraditional option.

  50. gillt says

    PZ

    and of pumping out all the water in the fragments would compare to burning

    In the context of energy consumption it’s not comparable but comparably less since a vacuum would lower the boiling point, requiring less energy, no?

  51. gillt says

    Well sure, zero energy expenditure wins, but vacuum desiccation is better for the environment than cremation, not equal which was what PZ said.

  52. stevem says

    My own take on this is to give my body to SCIENCE; not today’s science (i.e. med school students nor anatomists) but SCIENCE in the FUTURE. Not my whole body, mind you, but my fossilized bones. How do you become a fossil? Just dump my body in some shallow stream of highly mineralized water, I guess, so all my calcium molecules can be replaced with silicon (or sum-thin’). I always wanted to live in the future, maybe my bones alone will have to do, and fossilization is the only way I see of getting there. My descendants probably won’t cooperate and just put me in a hole-in-the-ground (in a box, etc), but this is my own personal idea, whatever happens to my body, I won’t care at the time because I’ll be dead (not hear to object).

  53. gillt says

    I’m literally on board with offering up myself to writhing swarms of hagfish as the most wonderful of all possible options. Strap on a GoPro for the surviving who wish for some closure.

  54. unclefrogy says

    I have thought about this some. I like PZ’s idea of being dropped into deep water as a nice simple solution, similar to a sky burial.
    I stopped trying to figure out about how I should be treated. I only have one simple request and it is not an order of any kind because it is really not up to me at all. The wish is to spend as little as possible on the disposal of any remains. Put me out with the trash through me into the sun do anything just don’t waste any money in doing it Take what ever is left of any worldly goods and do what is best
    it is as if I was never here
    uncle frogy

  55. toddsweeney says

    Surprised no-one quote “The Tempest” yet;

    Full fathom five thy father lies;
    Of his bones are coral made;
    Those are pearls that were his eyes:
    Nothing of him that doth fade
    But doth suffer a sea-change
    Into something rich and strange.
    Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell

  56. jimroberts says

    With a bit of luck, PZ’s deep sea remains would fossilize, leading future cephalopod palaeontologists to speculate about aquatic apes.

  57. dorght says

    My hopes for natural burial is to be dropped in an active sedimentary area (somewhere around the mouth of the Mississippi perhaps) astride faux dinosaur bones, wearing a sabre tooth necklace, and trilobite shells stuck inside my rib cage. Let some future paleo person figure that one out.

  58. gussnarp says

    In re #61-63:

    The quote is truncated poorly. PZ wondered about the energy required to freeze the body, maintain the nitrogen at liquid, vibrate the body to dust, and suck all the water out compared to cremation.

    That equation might turn out to not be very favorable, if at all, to this method. Add in only a single facility doing it and the transportation of the corpse could have a significant environmental toll as well.

    Of course, if the energy for all that were coming from truly renewable sources, versus actual fire for the cremation, the carbon footprint could be virtually zero for the freezing option. This is one reason a well designed carbon tax could be very beneficial: turning all these complex equations about energy expenditures through the whole fuel cycle into a single pricing decision for the end consumer.

  59. says

    gussnarp 72

    Of course, if the energy for all that were coming from truly renewable sources, versus actual fire for the cremation, the carbon footprint could be virtually zero for the freezing option.

    Which, for some reason, conjured an image of a team of grim-faced, mourning-clothed people pedalling furiously to drive a bloomin’ gert dynamo.

    Sorry.

  60. gillt says

    @72 gussnarp:

    You’re correct. I quoted poorly based on a misinterpretation of what PZ said. I blame my current preoccupation with vacuum distillation.

  61. Rich Woods says

    “I don’t give a toss what you’ve done with me when I’ve shrugged off m’ mortal coil… Shove a bit of flex up m’ back passage, stick a lightbulb in m’ mouth and stand me in the hall. Mind you, if you’re using electricity you’ll have to dry me out first!” — Sir Henry Rawlinson (Viv Stanshall)

  62. Adam Leuer says

    Yes! Thanks for saying this, PZ. I’ve never understood the need to venerate corpses. As far as I’m concerned, my body is a big sack of meat without my brain. I get that most people want to see the body of a loved one as part of the grieving process, but after that, is it really necessary to festoon a corpse with so many silly trinkets, expensive clothes, makeup, etc., pack it a coffin that costs as much as a car, and then drop it all straight into the ground? If people didn’t think they needed elaborate, expensive funeral services to do it “properly,” they’d probably find the only thing that really matters is spending time with loved ones to remember the deceased. And that need not cost anything. As far as my corpse is concerned, I’m thinking dog chew toy and/or fertilizer. But really I’m up for anything.

  63. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Of course, if you donate your body to a medical school, ultimately they have to either give it back to your family or dispose of it.

  64. robro says

    I mentioned this shattering frozen bodies method of disposal to my wife. She already knew about it! She says the only natural burial mortuary she knows about is in Marin County and it isn’t cheap. The cheapest method, currently, is cremation. I’m telling you, her interest in these things is a little creepy.

  65. robro says

    And regarding donating bodies to medical schools: My wife’s mother was a nurse and donated her body to a school. What this meant is that some years after her mother’s death my wife received a box of “ashes” from the school. I think because of her emotions around the loss of her mother when she was still fairly young, the box sat in our basement for another 10 years before she finally went on a camping trip up the coast. In some ways, I think her mother’s well meaning gesture merely served to drag out the experience of loss for my wife.

  66. eveningchaos says

    @60
    I believe the suit was designed to make sure that the toxins present in people’s bodies would not leach into the water table. If you read the FAQ http://infinityburialproject.com/faq it is explained why we can’t just have ourselves buried without taking precautions to make sure the toxins don’t get into the environment.

  67. Alex says

    Antiochus,

    In my ex’s Uni they had a joint funeral service with the medical students and families after prep class was over… That was in Germany

  68. Lofty says

    Is the process of crapping and pissing into the sewage system for 80 odd years any less toxic to the environment that disposal of the rotting husk? Properly managed, a sewage works would be ideal for handling of mortal remains. Sell the methane from decomposition to the power companies or use the electricity yourself. Pig farms do it already.

  69. Carlos Cabanita says

    So many lovely post mortem fantasies, some in the form “When I die I’ll be buried somewhere…”
    You will miss your funeral. Your corpse is not you.
    The film in the brain stopped at your death. You could have imagined it, but you are no longer alive.

  70. says

    I’m happiest about being recycled in an arboretum, what you do is drill a hole with a post hole digger, dump the body in a sack, backfill with a wormfarm on top and a light metal removable grill and then a new tree of your choosing, or what the plantation is…
    You can then get turned into worm castings and be absorbed into new life and become a leaf, a flower, waft in the wind and enjoy the sunlight, a hell of a lot better than stupid xtian idiot pollution methods…

    Thanks PZMeyer, love your work..!

    P.S. My Advice from Australia: Rip up the US Constitution and start again…

  71. thinkfree83 says

    I think that humans venerate dead bodies because we interact with each other as bodies in space and time. Maybe it would be different if we could communicate telepathically, as disembodied minds. But at this point in time, humans focus on the physicality of each other. We want to remember loved ones as they were, so to speak, not as pieces of rotting, bloated flesh. Also remember that modern funerals often require gathering people from all over the country, or even the world, which requires that the body remain unburied/unburnt for up to a week. In the past, when few people left their villages, all the mourners could easily get together in a day’s notice and be done with it in a few hours. Funeral services were also pretty much the same too. Today, custom-made funerals, caskets, urns, etc. are a big business and it can take take to “shop” for everything that is needed.

    The myth of modern humans as being too full of toxins and preservatives to rot is easily dispelled. For example, the bodies of the victims of the Jonestown massacre were already in an advanced state of decay when they were found a day and a half later by the Guyana Defense Force, so much so that many of them (especially children) were never identified. Here is a link to the autopsies that were performed:

    http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/AboutJonestown/PrimarySources/Autopsies.html

    I suppose the most ecological form of burial would be to simply bury corpses in cardboard boxes with holes in the bottom to speed up decomposition. However, as others have noted, there isn’t a lot of room for inhumation in many countries.

  72. says

    I’m gonna try to say this politely, let’s see how I do.

    @87 thinkfree83:

    But at this point in time, humans focus on the physicality of each other. We want to remember loved ones as they were, so to speak, not as pieces of rotting, bloated flesh.

    Well, thanks for that. And that makes all those people who thought we were human, saying exactly the opposite on this very thread that you’ve clearly not read, what exactly?

    Perhaps it would be good not to assert universalities about the human condition that do not encompass the human condition?

  73. timberwoof says

    What’s the point of freezing and dessicating the body into a dry powder that “does not decompose when kept dry”? Decomposition is the point and the intent! Much of that process seems like technological woowoo to make things somewhat less icky. Yeah, take my fillings out before you bury my body … but do you have to freeze the whole thing and hit it with a hammer? (Oh, yeah, and that ring. I don’t expect anyone will want to wear it… that’s probably a bit squicky. But it could get melted down.)

  74. PatrickG says

    As an air quality engineer, I always thought it would be pretty nifty to send my ashes up on a sounding balloon with a pressure-trip. Release me at 10km, and itty-bitty parts of me would float around the earth for decades. I’d get to visit places I’d never see in real life!

    Plus, by increasing the amount of particulates in the atmosphere and decreasing visibility for years, I’d be helping my fellow engineers keep their jobs! Plus, I’ve always wanted to see the deepest parts of the lung up close and personal.

    @ robro: Sounds like your wife is making… certain plans. Perhaps I’m projecting from my partner, who has requested permission to perform certain dermatological experiments upon me when I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. And is way too eager about it, too.

  75. thinkfree83 says

    @CaitieCat

    Actually, I did read all the previous posts. I was trying to provide an answer to those who were asking why people place importance on corpses to the point that they’re willing to pump them full of dangerous chemicals and spend thousands on boxes to keep them free of moisture and insects. All I was simply pointing out is that most people don’t like to think of grandma (or whoever) being eaten by worms. Even cultures who practice sky burials usually don’t just have family members hanging around to watch the vultures at work. For example, a couple of years ago here in Georgia there was an incident in which it was discovered that a crematory operator was just leaving bodies lying around his property rather than cremating them, and giving the families wood chippings rather than cremains. One could ask why the families were upset, since their loved ones were no less dead after being in the woods for three or five years than they would’ve been if they’d been cremated.

  76. says

    @91: Well, here’s a hint: if you want to suggest what “most people” think? A) Provide evidence. B) Don’t say “Humans think…” This is not how we form the “most people” construction in English. When you say “Humans think…”, try to associate it with the taste of pedal extremity.

  77. The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical says

    thinkfree83 @ 91

    One could ask why the families were upset, since their loved ones were no less dead after being in the woods for three or five years than they would’ve been if they’d been cremated.

    There are many things that upset people that have nothing to do with human nature and everything to do with cultural conditioning. Without evidence of it being intrinsic to human nature, there’s no reason to assume that’s the reason people place importance on the treatment of dead bodies.

    If I found out my father’s body had been left out in someone’s backyard instead of cremated, my response would be along the lines of, “Huh. Weird. And kind of cool. I wonder how well it decomposed under those conditions?”

    Then again, I also mourn the fact that I’ll likely never be able to look at my own internal organs. Oh, but I can dream…

  78. Phillip Brown says

    @57

    The reason for requiring whole cadavers is pretty much the only use for donated bodies is for medical training/dissection. Each student needs a complete body to start from so they all get to dissect the varies body parts. You cant have an anatomy lab where it’s like “Today class we dissect the heart.” “Sir, my cadaver doesn’t have a heart” “Alright Jenkins, you will just have to look over Smythe’s shoulder while he does it”. Just doesn’t work. I think the other thing they like is for the bodies to be reasonably intact – no accident victims, or serious disease.

    As to the whole question of disposal, I still need to contact the local zoo and see if they take donations for ‘feeding time’. Failing that, natural burial seems like the go for me, after appropriate harvesting.

  79. says

    Despite having a family plot full of people I’d be honored to spend eternity with (mostly), right next to Christa McAuliffe’s monument/grave no less, I get free burial at sea as a Navy veteran and I’m going with that. I don’t want to be devoured by hag fish and six gilled sharks. I want to bob up to the surface, snagged by some kid’s fishing line. Boo! Hahhha. Yeah. This’s gonna be awesome.

  80. thinkfree83 says

    @CaitieCat

    The ancient Egyptians were obsessed with finding ways to prevent their bodies from decomposing, which is why they spent so much time and trouble on perfecting mummification techniques. Judaism considers dead bodies to be ritually unclean, and members of the priestly class are forbidden from even flying over a cemetery in an airplane. The ancient Japanese found death so distasteful that the people who handled corpses (including leatherworkers) were put in an untouchable class where they remain to this day. Catholics and Orthodox Christians consider an “incorrupt” corpse to be a miracle, and sign of personal sanctity on the part of the deceased. Zoroastrians traditionally considered dead bodies to be unclean, and “pure elements” like fire and earth could not come into contact with them. This is why they devised sky burials. I can’t find something for every single culture, but I think this should show that many people, in different places and different times, are disgusted by decomposing bodies. Whether they should be or not is another question.

  81. says

    Yes. This, however, is not evidence which can be used to say, “Humans do X”, because patently, right here in this thread, you’ve got a few dozen people saying they don’t, actually, have those feelings which you insist are universal. If you’re trying to say they’re not universal, then just say, “Some humans”, or even “Most humans”, if you want.

    But when you say, “Humans do or feel X”, then you can’t be much surprised when someone says, “Um, I don’t do or feel X, so are you trying to say I’m not human?”

    More generally: This is three comments. Am I allowed to get sniny soon?

  82. lpetrich says

    What does one do about a dead member of one’s species? That’s not much of an issue for most species, though many predators and scavengers will eat the dead bodies of fellow species members. Cannibalism is common in species capable of it. Curiously, human cannibalism isn’t very common, and it is often regarded as very heinous. Dead bodies are a problem with social species, because they can spread infections. Ants typically dump their colony mates’ corpses in garbage-dump areas, though chimps do not show much interest in the corpses of their group members.

    Music in Human Evolution – Melting Asphalt by Kevin Simler reporting on Joseph Jordania’s book “Why Do People Sing?: Music in Human Evolution.”

    JJ proposes a rather curious hypothesis: that our ancestors from a few million years ago had eaten their dead in order to deny their corpses to predators, so that predators don’t experience that they are good to eat. He also proposes that this is why it’s so common in our species to protect corpses, then dispose of them in some way. Bertrand Russell noted in “An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish” that “The sacredness of corpses is a widespread belief. ” He claims that when some early 20th cy. doctor went to China to teach medicine, his hosts were horrified at his request for corpses to dissect, offering live criminals instead. There’s allegedly still something of that in China, in the form of the authorities harvesting the internal organs of condemned criminals, because most Chinese don’t want to donate their internal organs.

    Related to this is a common objection to cremation, that it will keep a corpse from being in good shape to be resurrected or reincarnated. As if being eaten by worms and microbes won’t also do that. But it’s the psychological impact that counts, it seems.

    Finally, Herodotus:

    Darius, after he had got the kingdom, called into his presence certain Greeks who were at hand, and asked- “What he should pay them to eat the bodies of their fathers when they died?” To which they answered, that there was no sum that would tempt them to do such a thing. He then sent for certain Indians, of the race called Callatians, men who eat their fathers, and asked them, while the Greeks stood by, and knew by the help of an interpreter all that was said – “What he should give them to burn the bodies of their fathers at their decease?” The Indians exclaimed aloud, and bade him forbear such language.

  83. thinkfree83 says

    Let me go back to my original post, when I said that humans interact with each other in physical space (the use of the word “humans” rather than “people” was deliberate). What part of this is incorrect? We often base our opinions of each other, rightly or wrongly, on what we can perceive with our five senses. The smell of rotting flesh is very pungent. Our ancestors, living in a world without refrigeration, would have known that better than we do. If nothing else, they would have found the smell of a corpse to be disgusting, and would have wanted to get rid of that stench ASAP, whether or not they found the maggots and flies that followed to be particularly objectionable. The revulsion to the smell of a dead body is why Catholics and the Orthodox thought that an “odor of sanctity” was a sign of a miracle.

  84. nimsudo says

    Personally, I’d like my body to be disposed of in such a way that it is likely to fossilize. Like somewhere in a river delta or shallow sea.

  85. PatrickG says

    @thinkfree83 @ 97

    Judaism considers dead bodies to be ritually unclean, and members of the priestly class are forbidden from even flying over a cemetery in an airplane.

    Can I get a citation on this? Particularly, if true, is this a generally observed proscription? Based on the distribution of cemeteries in the United States, no Rabbi could fly … anywhere.

    This does suggest a fun GIS project, though… Rabbi-free Flying Zones!

  86. playonwords says

    This might work but they the process lacks the first stage. First the body goes through a wood chipper, then you flash freeze it and pulverise it. If you clean through by chipping some brushwood you have even added the mulch!

    My horror is waking on the morticians slab whilst they are perfusing the embalming fluids …

  87. says

    @PatrickG #103
    “Rabbi” and “priestly class” may not be synonymous, depending on how technical you want to get. Rabbis aren’t really priests at all. In Judaism, “priests” means the Kohanim, or possibly all Levites. It’s an inherited thing, whereas anyone can be a rabbi.

    There are quite strict rules about the Kohanim and their contact with the dead (wikipedia). There are some rules about being on a plane that also carries a corpse, but whether the “flying over a cemetery” bit is part of it, I’m not sure.

    I wouldn’t be too surprised if some of the more traditional variants had such rules, though. There’s obviously a bit of interpretational leeway when it comes to such modern phenomena.

  88. gussnarp says

    In re #s 15, 77, 79, and a couple of others on medical schools:

    Yes, the organ donation issue concerns me. I’ve gone ahead and signed up and the deal with my local university is that once you’ve signed up, they will deal with your body, one way or another. They will not, however, actually use it if your organs get donated. Of course, I expect organ donation is not automatic even if you’re an organ donor. You’ve got to die in such a way that your organs are in suitable condition for donation and there has to be a patient in need who matches. I’m sure there are plenty of patients in need, but having all the right conditions to insure donation – well, I figure if my organs help someone, that’s great, but since there’s a good chance they won’t, my corpse can still be of some use.

    And final disposal is still an issue. Hopefully your local university has this covered well. Mine is very thorough, specifying how they get the body, who’s responsible for what regarding storage and transportation (basically, if I die locally, someone just calls them and it’s taken care of, but if I die elsewhere, it get’s a bit dicey). As far as final disposal, I don’t even remember if there’s an option for next of kin to receive remains. Default is that you’re cremated and interred at some central location with all the other cadavers. I went with that. Seemed simplest and least messy. I do hope a tree will be planted in a local park in my honor with a little plaque. Preferably a sycamore.

  89. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    think83, from CaitieCat:

    But when you say, “Humans do or feel X”, then you can’t be much surprised when someone says, “Um, I don’t do or feel X, so are you trying to say I’m not human?”

    You actually should be surprised if someone asks that question, because that person would seem to be misunderstanding you on purpose.
     
    Allow me to farcically take issue with this statement and if you like, you can imagine that I’m Joe Pesci.

    Our ancestors, living in a world without refrigeration, would have known that better than we do.

    My parents and my grandparents had refrigerators. Are you saying that they aren’t my real ancestors? Do you think I was adopted or something?

  90. thinkfree83 says

    @catiecat

    Refrigeration is a relatively new invention. Your parents and grandparents may have had refrigerators, but if you go back any further than that, they didn’t. In fact, my own father and his parents didn’t have refrigerators, because they lived in the rural South. There are still millions, if not billions, of people who don’t have them. As I mentioned before, if someone dies and the body isn’t embalmed or put into a refrigerator, that corpse is going to start stinking and it’s not going to smell like Chanel No. 5, particularly if you live in a hot climate, where decomposition can set in within a couple of hours. Modern funerary techniques such as body freezing, embalming, and funerary makeup allow modern people to have a certain distance from the biological processes of death that did not exist in previous generations. I don’t see what part of this is so hard for you to grasp.

  91. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物) : They also do work with cats out there (when lots of replicates are needed). When our cat, Einar, died we sent him to the body farm, with the request that we could keep his skelington after the experiment was up. A dermestid colony was used to thoroughly clean the bones. Einar currently lies in repose in an ossuary*, but we plan to rearticulate his skeleton as sort of a family project**. Then we’ll put him right back where he used to chill.

    *A Chuck-Taylor shoe box
    **This may not be so easy, but as long as we get the general bauplan right, the stray phalange or tooth here or there shouldn’t offend the eye too egregiously.

  92. PatrickG says

    @ LykeX: Thanks for reminding me of the distinction, and for the link. However, I did get a kick out of this from your wiki link:

    In order to protect the Kohen from coming into prohibited contact with or proximity to the dead, Orthodox cemeteries traditionally designate a burial ground for Kohanim and their families which is at a distance from the general burial ground, so that the relatives of Kohanim can be visited by a Kohen without him entering the cemetery.

    Yeah, that totally makes sense. We’ll create a new burial ground, just not call it a cemetery! Problem solved!

    Heh.

  93. says

    @107 gussnarp

    Reading the STAFs site linked way up top, while they prefer they get whole, intact bodies, they will accept donations of any leftover portions after organ donation. I’m sure there’s some logistics that would need to be worked out between the organ bank and the STAFs, uh, staff, but probably not insurmountable.

  94. John Horstman says

    We started burning corpses or burying our dead in locations removed from dwellings becasue rotting flesh attracts predators, pestilent scavengers, disease vectors, and can be toxic itself. Cemeteries around here aren’t that far removed from dwellings, so uninflected decomposition could cause problems, especially attracting coyotes. Intentional feeding to wild animals might be less resource-intensive than the dessication process, but you’d need to ship a bunch of corpses to places where wild animals the eat dead tissue still exist and are removed from human populations so as to avoid the problems that cemeteries were originally created to cope with. So, “Are corpse shipping costs (environmental costs, not dollars) higher than corpse processing costs?” seems to be the pertinent question.

    @Antiochus Epiphanes #108: Is using the word “some” or “many” or “tend” or some modifier that makes the generalization explicit really that difficult? Also, your analogy is flawed, as it specifies the particular ancestors in question – those who lived w/o refrigeration. If someone says, “Our ancestors believed in tree-spirits,” that’s an equally bad universalization, as I have plenty who didn’t.

  95. says

    Thank you, John Horstman. I got tired of having to argue for my own humanity, rather than against bad-faith accusations for no apparent reason. I wasn’t “mis-reading” thinkfree, I was reading quite clearly: “Humans do X. You people who’ve made admissions in this thread that you don’t think this way, you can be excused from ‘what humans are like’ class, as it obviously doesn’t apply to you, because I have rectally-instantiated evidence anecdata!”

    That is, yes, this is a minor point, but since when did we become inured to the idea that dehumanizing language can be…dehumanizing? And all in the service of not having to type “some” or “most”?

  96. Richard Smith says

    I’ve been reading Mary Roach’s Stiff, and just finished the penultimate chapter, which discusses this method of disposal, as well as cremation and “water reduction,” among others. I thought it sounded familiar as I read it…