Sunday, July 18, 2010


I have examined plenty of ghastly imagery in my time ... "horrors of war" footage, targets of assassinations, monstrous mutilations of clan enemies, and charred chunks of suicide bombers. All of it is repugnant and reprehensible. My reaction to atrocity is often sadness or outrage but even natural carnage becomes objectionable when men fail to show compassion. That was certainly the case when a series of photos which showed me bodies of Haitian earthquake victims being hauled to a landfill mixed with building rubble. Bucket loaders had scooped up corpses and concrete and poured them into dump trucks with no attempt to offer a moment of dignity for the dead, most of whom must have been very spiritual in life.

I had similar feelings of outrage last week as I read a story in the DAILY MAIL about growing interest in a chemical reduction process to get rid of human remains - a gruesome process known as RESOMATION. The cynical attempt of some to sell this outrage as an an "eco-friendly," progressive service to the public, is an insult to the intelligence of anyone who still has a caring bone left in their body. I haven't been this disturbed about callous trends in the Funeral Industry since my first reading of "Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain," extracted from Jessica Mitford's investigative book THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH.

You can read the entire DAILY MAIL article (here) or you can settle for all the "Who cares anyway!" responses to the piece which arose next day. Just tickle Uncle Google with a few key strokes and he'll point you to them.

Three grinning funeral "Directors" demonstrate an American version of a Resomation system. I would imagine their first exports will be to Mexican drug cartels, some of which are already know to dissolve their opponents in 45 gallon drums.

A human volunteer lays his body in stainless steel RESOMATION tank which will reduce his body to a bucket of sludge in less than two hours. Unlike the ceramic bathtub destroyed when it was used to dissolve a rival drug dealer's corpse in an episode of BREAKING BAD, this engineered process is guaranteed to destroy thousands of bodies maintenance free.

This bucket holds the sludge recovered after dissolving two large pigs. Dissolving a human being produces half as much sludge, but more guilt than any of us should be willing to bear.
You can watch a slide show of the process demonstrated (here). No, the company is not a subsidiary of I.G. Farbenindustrie. It's a proud American firm named CYCLEDLIFE.


"Section 182 (b) Every one who improperly or indecently interferes with or offers any indignity to a dead human body or human remains, whether buried or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years. R.S., c. C-34, s. 178."

This section of Canada's Criminal Code usually gets trotted out when gang bangers or other outlaws burn or scatter the bodies of people they've murdered. It's about time it was amended to deal with "Resomation" and other processes which may be concocted to make people vanish without trace, as they do in George Orwell's allegory of a world where living memory, identity and history disappear.


Too many people seem to have come to the conclusion that life has no purpose or meaning. They are not burdened with a sense of responsibility, they feel no loyalty to a community, they have no personal goals, romance is a humbug, Art does not move them, reading is a bore, even raw pornography doesn't stir their flesh. Sadly they chose to forgo the 1.2 children that was their due. Since they have a sneaking suspicion no one will come to their funeral anyway, cremation has become the 'send off' of choice. Almost 75% of "the departed" in Greater Vancouver are now disposed of in the crematoriums. East Asian families are now permitted to burn their dead on an open air pyre located beside the Fraser River.

I have a passion for the past and I often share news of fresh archaeological discoveries with my son. We agree that human remains should be treated with dignity and respect. Always. When we examine the burial practices of past cultures we notice an emphasis on something of the eternal in the human spirit. Love, for instance, is an expression of the eternal and a recognition that we are not simply clever animals residing at the top of a food chain. When for instance we find human remains which have been carefully interred in a fashion which documents love in perpetuity (as below) we have to question our own resolve to do what is fitting and proper. "Would I do any less for those I love?"

The B.C. Government will punish any property owner who discovers aboriginal remains and fails to accord those remains their lawful due. It is very strange that respect for our own dead continues to erode and that we may reach a point where traditional burial and the provision for perpetual care disappears from our culture.

Although the family relationship of these adolescent remains are in dispute - a brother/sister, or a bonded couple, there is no denying the fact that their burial ceremonial was invested with a degree of love and loyalty that is rarely matched in our own time. I am overjoyed that their bodies were not left exposed to the jackals or the vultures, because their embrace is a promise that something of human existence, and our individual lives, is eternal. We can count on it.

The Final Word: My thanks to Sandy Chang, a student in Burnaby, B.C. who drew my attention to a Japanese book called THE CATALOGUE OF DEATH which includes a section on plans or current practices for disposing of the unwanted dead. This illustration (from the Taiwan edition of the book) shows how Swedes are getting the job done. The human sludge is not washed down the drain but instead used for garden fertilizer. I like how the machine has an earth friendly" recyle" logo.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Your argument in favor of cremation over a CycledBurials(TM) fails to consider the harm cremation inflicts on family and friends. There are few final disposition options. The only one that does not present a public health risk is CycledBurial. Both cremation and unsterile burials expose the living to risks. Taking such risks is no longer necessary.

For most people, it would be horrifying to witness a body being burned in a retort. The release of mercury from cremation is a serious problem that can be solved if people would simply stop the further use of incineration to dispose of human remains.

Here are some references to the problem with mercury.

Summary of References on Mercury Emissions from Crematoria
November 3, 2008
Table of Contents
Number of Cremations in Dane County, Wisconsin and the US

US research indicates that the cremation of one human lets off 2.0 to 3.0 grams of mercury
into the atmosphere.

New ordinance may be targeting wrong pollutants

This chapter covers the atmospheric emissions from the incineration of human bodies in a
crematorium. The emissions associated with the combustion of support fuels during the
cremation process are also included (Figure 1).


Incineration of Corpses
Go to page 97