The Dangers of Embalming and The Alternative of Human Composting
The practice of embalming is incredibly widespread – a New York Times article published in 2019 estimates that 50% of dead bodies in the U.S. undergo the embalming process. There are several reasons given for this; that it is respectful to the body, sanitary, and gives the family time to gather as a group before viewing the body. Many argue that embalming allows us to view our loved ones after they die, especially if they pass under difficult circumstances – a car accident for example.
On the other side, there is also the ‘anti-embalming’ camp largely composed of green funeral supporters and environmentalists. Their primary argument against embalming is that it is environmentally toxic and leeches poison into the earth, ensuring that our last act on this planet is to pollute it.
We at Return Home agree that embalming is a major problem, but for a completely different set of reasons. A quick disclaimer – our Terramation (human composting) process cannot be carried out on an embalmed body. The formaldehyde in the embalming fluid destroys the microbes that we rely on to transform the body into soil. That said, embalming is a big problem not just for us human composters, but for the thousands of people that work in the funeral industry.
Interestingly enough, we have found no conclusive science that unequivocally shows embalming fluid to be harmful to the environment. A theory has been put forward that formaldehyde transforms into a non-poisonous protein after coming in contact with the earth, and (so far as we are aware) this has not been conclusively disproven.
We list our arguments against embalming as follows;
1) Formaldehyde has been conclusively found to cause cancer.
2) A little-known fact, but one that everyone in the funeral industry knows – most professional embalmers over the age of 40 have little or no sense of smell. The common sentiment is that working around embalming fluid for decades affects the olfactory nerve.
3) For many people (children in particular) seeing an embalmed loved one is far from comforting. Many in the funeral industry actually say that the reason that they got into the industry was because they went to a loved one’s funeral and left thinking that they could do a much better job themselves.
4) Embalming stops the natural decomposition process. Bodies have been disinterred after over 100 years underground and found to be largely still intact. And yes, for us human composters that means we can’t do our job to return people back to the earth simply and quickly.
5) Many people could still have a family identification viewing without the need for formaldehyde or extensive preparation
We at Return Home find it very interesting that while a number of arguments have been made against embalming, almost no-one talks about the fact that embalming has the most serious negative effect on the living.
If surgeons, lawyers, or tennis stars were being grievously injured by formaldehyde in their workplace, you can bet your bottom dollar that a solution to the problem would be quickly discovered. The problem is that the people being hurt are funeral workers, and to be brutally honest most people don’t spend a great deal of time worrying about a sick mortician.