05 February 2012


The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford, 1996, Excerpts

Cremation is no doubt a simple, tidy solution to the disposal of the dead. It appeals to the nature lover and the poet, who visualize their mortal remains scattered over sunny hillside or remote strand. It has appeal for the economy-minded; logically one would expect the expense to be but a fraction of that incurred for earth burial. And, to continue along that seditious line of thought, why not bypass the undertaker altogether, by taking the corpse directly to a crematory, there to be consigned to the flames – the only expense incurred: a modest crematory charge?

Cremation, like every other aspect of disposal of the dead, has long since been taken over by the cemetery industry and mortuary interests, which prescribe the procedures to be followed and establish the regulations to which the customer must adhere. Existing state laws, regrettably, serve only to help the industry play havoc with the consumer’s desire for a simple, cheap funeral. Therefore, he who seeks to avoid the purchase of a casket, embalming, and the full treatment will not succeed by the mere fact of choosing cremation rather than burial.

Administered by the cemetery interest, cremation has become just another way of making a buck, principally through the sale of the niche and urn, plus “perpetual care,” for the ashes. Casket manufacturers now offer a dazzling array of products topped by an “art-urn” line featuring elaborately sculptured pieces such as a seascape wit leaping dolphins. Also available are urns crafted in bronze, wood, semi-precious metals, glass, and marble.

New 'green cremation' machine opens in Minnesota
16 Aug 2012
A Scottish company has installed its second "Resomation" machine, in the US state of Minnesota. The new facility in Stillwater, Minnesota, has already processed the remains of 20 individuals. Resomation is billed in the US as "green cremation" or "flameless cremation". Resomation involves the heating of the remains at some 300C in a pressurized vessel containing a potassium hydroxide solution. The process takes around three hours and reduces the body to skeletal remains which are processed into a white powder which can be given to the family, like ash from crematoria. Its makers claim it produces a third less greenhouse gas than cremation, uses a seventh of the energy, and allows for the complete separation of dental amalgam for safe disposal. Mercury from amalgam vaporized in crematoria is blamed for a proportion of airborne mercury emissions worldwide.

Funeral homes turn cremation into hot new business
28 May 2012
A surge in popularity for cremations in the US is threatening to overwhelm its "mom-and-pop" funeral homes, which count on big burials for their profits. Two of the largest publicly traded funeral home chains in the country warned investors the continuing upward trend in cremation could harm revenue and turnover. An immediate, no-frills cremation is much less expensive than a full-service burial: $2,070 (£1,299) on average, compared to $7,755. As cremation has grown in popularity, employment in "death care" businesses has declined, especially hard hit were skilled embalmers. The key, say industry leaders say, is for funeral directors to steer families away from immediate "direct cremation" with a no-frills container for the ashes toward more costly urns, ash accessories and services.

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