Monday, 7 April 2008

Three Bodies Boiled for the Price of Two

In any place and time, the customs surrounding death say a lot about people's shared beliefs. Do I mean 'beliefs'? What I have in mind is not the consciously-chosen or stubbornly-clung-to position which that word may suggest. Rather, these customs reveal the deeper fabric of assumptions, usually taken for granted, which make up our understanding of reality.

What prompted this thought was a report in yesterday's Independent on Sunday that the British government is "considering radical solutions for disposing of the dead":

With options shrinking, the Government has turned its attention to the possibility of "boiling" bodies down to a handful of dust.

What I found most revealing was a comment from the company promoting this technique. Sandy Sullivan, managing director of Water Resomation Ltd, told the paper:

Cremation takes up to two hours to dispose of one body. We think we can do it in two hours, but we are telling people we can do it in three hours. Anything better than that will be a bonus – it would amount to three for the price of two.

What times we live in.


Steve Hayes said...

Cremation uses a lot of energy and causes a lot of CO2 emissions. I don't know what boiling would do -- could one call that "extraordinary rendition"?

Why not follow Greek practice?

Bury the bodies, and when they have decomposed dig up the bones, put them in an ossuary, and reuse the grave?

Dougald Hine said...

I completely agree, Steve. I've thought for a long time that the ossuary is a wiser approach.

Besides the CO2 emissions and the energy consumption, I have a deeper unease with the form of cremation practised in Western societies. It represents the industrialisation of death - the body reduced to a problematic waste product in need of processing. Only a society which was already losing its sense of the sacred could have adopted such a custom.

The other side of this is that industrial society is peculiarly unable to face death - to see it as part of life, rather than as a failure. (This has contributed to the corruption of our medical tradition.) Cremation suits our desire for death to be hidden from sight. Surely a society which practised exhumation and ossuary interment would be at home with death in a way that we are not?

Do you think there is a connection between Greek practice and the general attitude to death in the Eastern church?

Nick said...

There's always Sky Burial..

Dougald Hine said...

"There's always Sky Burial..."

Do you mean as in the Zoroastrian exposure of the dead on a Tower of Silence? Or like Hunter S Thompson? (I suppose that doesn't really count, though, since he was cremated before they fired his remains out of a cannon...)

Nick said...

Like they do in Tibet--I think it's similar in zoroastrianism

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