Decompose or Recompose?

Perhaps you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s death – imminent or far in the future – and what its impact will be, whether environmental or financial. The state of Washington has addressed your concern. Senate Bill 5001, pithily titled “Concerning Human Remains,” is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature. (Governor Inslee is quite busy these days running for President, you know.) If signed, the new law allowing the “natural organic reduction” of dead human bodies will take effect on May 1, 2020.

A simpler term is “composting.” Rather than putting a body filled with formaldehyde and other embalming chemicals into a non-biodegradable casket and burying it in a crowded cemetery, or releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by incinerating it, the new law will allow after-life remains to decompose on their own and become part of the earth.

The new word is “recomposition.” A new organization is ready. Katrina Spade is founder and CEO of the firm Recompose, whose main purpose is the natural returning of human bodies to the earth after death. She is an advocate of human composting and has worked with scientists studying natural decomposition, including real-death testing in North Carolina.

Of course, some find this appalling. Conservative Catholics ask What about the human soul? and condemn recomposition as another example of disrespect for human life, equating it with abortion and euthanasia.

Serving on Recompose’s board is Caitlin Doughty, owner of Undertaking LA, a non-traditional mortuary in southern California whose declared mission is “to allow families to reclaim their rightful control over the death and dying process, as well as care of the dead body.” She has also gained YouTube fame with her series “Ask a Mortician,” using humor and plain talk to address myriad death issues, from the cost of funeral services to death denial.

Throughout the history of humankind, one wonders what are the relative numbers of deceased who were naturally composted, whether left lying on a battlefield or bulldozed into a mass grave or swept away by a natural disaster.

Originally published on Geroge Rothert


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