The American Wayof Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford, 1996, Excerpts
The primary purpose of embalming, all funeral men will tell you, is that embalming is done for reasons of sanitation and required by law. The true purpose of embalming is to facilitate an open-casket funeral – with the emphasis on casket. Embalming is a procedure that boils down to sales and profits. “Embalming is the cornerstone upon which the funeral service profession was founded and it has remained so through the years,” editorializes the American Funeral Director.
One might suppose that the whole point of embalming is the long-term preservation of the deceased. Actually, although phrases like “peace-of-mind protection” and “eternal preservation” crop up frequently in casket and vault advertising, the embalmers themselves know better. The more dilute the embalming fluid, the softer and more natural appearing the guest of honor. Therefore, the usual procedure is to embalm with about enough preservation to ensure that the body will last through the funeral – generally, a matter of a few days.