Death. And human composting

My wife enjoys the “Ask a Mortician” series by Caitlin Doughty, and recently we watched a video of hers about human composting - which has recently now become legal in Washington, Oregon and … NOT California.

The theme (the death and life cycle) of that video reminded me of the contrast that is often a major point of contention around here: does physical death have a legitimate role in any good created order, or is it a foreign enemy introduced into creation only because of human sin?

While most Christians accepting evolutionary science probably land on the first answer, I’m still curious how those who are committed to the latter response would react to or process the whole notion of human composting. Obviously it’s considered too controversial right now for politicians to want to tackle it in the U.S., which is a curious thing to me, given that the majority of us by now are okay with cremation. If Christians have come to accept cremation as okay, but yet find this objectionable - I am most curious why.

2 Likes

I don’t have a problem with the compost (though the initial idea of it being a climate crisis and needing human bodies to resolve that sounds a bit disproportionate), but having worked with bodies in med school, the hardest thing I had to deal with was dissecting the hand. I honestly could not see myself working the soil and finding bits of human finger bone as I planted seeds. I’m sorry-I’m at work and haven’t finished the video as work is just starting soon, so maybe that is addressed in other spots.

1 Like

I don’t find it good or bad when all things are considered. I think it’s better than cutting down a forest or something to build a large cemetery. But I also think that we can built a large cemetery and restore it for dual use with native plants. I think that ultimately following a natural at home burial would result in decomposition and compost as well. But regulations like a body having to be 6 feet down undermines a lot of the ecological benefits than being 2 feet down. Being two feet down though places a body at a biggest risk of being dig up by an animal before then. Pros and cons with everything.

The cons with this in my opinion would simply be the cost. Maybe they mentioned it and I just did not hear. But I imagine that has to be a fairly expensive burial. Especially if they also follow the same typical American customs of a wake , funeral home and ect… but a pro is that not everyone has property to be buried on. But any more had land where they can use compost at. She mentioned the default of cremation is price reduction. If this process was to replace cremation as a default you would expect it to be around the same price as cremation. If they could get the price of this down to $500-1500 that is possible. I feel like they maybe could. It’s less than rent and a fraction of the space. But it’s a business.

As far as it being morally wrong or something there is no reason for it. If anything it’s just highlighting the whole “ back to dust “‘in a more clear cut way.

It’s sifted through before release and bones are essentially turn to powder and placed back in the compost.

Definitely the option I would prefer. Haven’t looked at the video yet but I’ve looked at articles about it.

What I like about it is the idea that the stuff that has served me so well would stay in the biosphere. The idea of sealing any portion of that away in concrete as was done with part of my mother in law’s ashes for burial has no appeal to me. We’ve never visited the site but often think of her fondly. Reserving a place for such a purpose seems weird to me.

They wouldn’t have been under any illusions that anything at all (much less this one little thing) will be solving any climate crisis. The ship for listening to science and ‘solving things’ sailed twenty or forty years ago. [though we can certainly still make choices that make bad things even worse.]

It does really seem like a cool way to go, though! And actually much closer to my own Christian sensitiblities of “a kernel of wheat falling, dying, and springing up new life” than what our current funeral industry has most of us defaulting to. I’m really trying to think how I can make this happen for myself where I live (not tomorrow or next year hopefully … but … you know what I mean.)

1 Like

Were you referring to the composting facility with that observation? You’re right that it still isn’t completely nature’s way of doing things - but still helps artificially speed things along in something of a controlled way where we can still retain some control and ceremony about it. After all if we find it difficult to stomach being compost (as opposed to moldering away for decades longer in a sealed vault) then we probably aren’t ready to stomach the thought of animals and carrion fowl having their way with uncle Johnny somewhere out on the back forty. But that would be the way to truly get yourself scattered far and wide in a hurry.

Oh no I think the process they describe is brilliant in terms of our human need for ceremony as well as the chemistry. I’d very much support making room for the facilities they describe. (Still watching the video now.)

I was referring to the graveyard where my mother in law’s ashes lie. That isn’t a great use of the land.

1 Like

Without physical death, our planet would eventually become uninhabitable. Think about it. I guess you could pass draconian laws to prevent humans from reproducing, but is a world without babies really a paradise? And vermin would be multiplying unchecked. So, no thanks.

The composting burials that I am familiar with (and I think there is one in east Texas) work by burying the bodies (un-embalmed) in a plain canvas bag 5-6 feet deep in a wooded area and planting a tree on top of it. The compost is in place, not in a compost facility with the compost sold at Home Depot. hmm, could market it as Hu-mus…

Another way of cremation I find disturbing is chemical cremation, which is a commercial thing also. They essentially pressure cook you in a strong lye solution to dissolve all but a few bone fragments, then run the fragments through a grinder to give the family “cremains” to scatter. The fluidized flesh is presumably flushed down the drain, and I suppose is returned back to nature down at the sewer plant.

And, you can always donate your body to a body farm, where they lay you out in various scenarios and let nature take its course to do research on how bodies decompose for forensic purposes

2 Likes

What do folks with problems about the issue think about those lost at sea, I wonder.

1 Like

Or how are we resurrected from trees and grass? I’m sure God can figure that out if necessary

1 Like

You hear about the coffins made out of mushrooms?

3 Likes

True, a body with a too shallow layer of soil above is in great risk of being partly exposed. When partly exposed, the smell is not nice - you can smell even the body of a (large) dog from a long distance, if the body is not deep enough.

The problem of spreading disease is also something that needs to be considered. For example, the flies that use the body might spread disease.

This is an extremely interesting topic to me.

I once wrote a submission to a state government inquiry on burial / corpse disposal practices, arguing for consideration of catering for, in limited and regulated circumstances, those of us who would prefer to have our bodily remains made available to ecological recycling mechanisms, by simply leaving them on the surface.

It didn’t go down well :rofl:. Somehow, although today’s decision-making elite are secularists who regularly preach about non-anthropocentrism, they still have a great deal of trouble dealing with the obvious fact that we are animals and we all die and get eaten by other critters and that this is how the vitality of the finite biosphere is indefinitely maintained.

Now I have accepted God into my heart and I accept that Scripture is God-breathed. The questions you raise around the origin of death and so on, press on me. For now I’m happy to humbly say I don’t know.

2 Likes

Why would that be an issue for anyone? :flushed: (Excepting ‘body farms’ for forensic studies, as mentioned earlier.)

Organ donations are always needed, and whole body donation to a state anatomical board is an another option to consider, for use in med schools and research and A&P studies in other schools.

Because people are repulsed by and in deep denial of the fact that we die and our bodies are subject to decay (φθαρτός, corruptible). There is no genuine comprehension that life comes from death, even despite 50-100 years of supposed ecological awareness. We had David Attenborough as a cultural phenomenon, which was great, but at the same time arose Disney, which ruined it all.

And they should be. It is the last enemy to be defeated. It means permanent temporal separation from loved ones, just for starters.

My “Why should [dead bodies lying around] be a problem for anyone?” was very much tongue firmly planted in cheek. Stench, decay, maggots? They are repulsive for good reasons.

Why? Are we gods? Why should we demand to be eternal?

Huh? Separation from loved ones is painful, short or long term. Death is just more temporally permanent – what has that to do with our being gods or demanding to be eternal? Death stinks, in more ways than one.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.