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New idea in mortuary science : dissolving bodies


Since they first walked the planet, humans have either buried or burned their dead. Now a new option is generating interest dissolving bodies and flushing the brownish, syrupy residue down the drain.

The process is called alkaline hydrolysis and was developed in the U.S 16 years ago to get rid of animal carcasses. It uses lye, 150 degree Celsius heat and 60 pounds of pressure a square inch to destroy bodies in big stainless-steel cylinders that are similar to pressure cookers.

No funeral homes in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world, as far as the equipment manufacturer knows offer it. In fact, only two U.S. medical centers use it on human bodies, and only on cadavers donated for research. But because of its environmental advantages, some in the funeral industry say it could someday rival burial and cremation.

Getting the public to accept a process that strikes some as ghastly may be the biggest challenge. Psychopaths and dictators have used acid or lye to torture or erase their victims. Alkaline hydrolysis is legal in Minnesota and in New Hampshire, where a funeral director is pushing to offer it. But he has yet to line up the necessary regulatory approvals.

In addition to the liquid, the process leaves a dry bone residue similar in appearance and volume to cremated remains. It could be retuned to the family in an urn or buried in a cemetery. The coffee-colored liquid has the consistency of motor oil and a strong ammonia smell. Proponents say it is sterile and ca be safely poured down the drain, once the procedure is permitted.

Alkaline hydrolysis does not take up as much space in cemeteries as burial. The process could also ease concerns about crematorium emissions, including carbon dioxide and mercury from silver dental fillings.

Source: The Hindu dated 10/05/08

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