New York Times: An Alternative to Burial and Cremation Gains Popularity

Thursday, October 19, 2017

As excerpted from the New York Times:

What do you want done with your body after you die? It is an unnerving but important question, and for most Americans there have long been only two obvious choices: burial or cremation. But a third option, a liquefaction process called by a variety of names — flameless cremation, green cremation or the “Fire to Water” method — is starting to gain popularity throughout the United States.

This week, California became the 15th state to outline commercial regulations for the disposal of human remains through the method, chemically known as alkaline hydrolysis.

It may seem markedly different from the traditional means of digging graves or burning the dead. A machine uses a chemical bath to dissolve protein, blood and fat, leaving only a coffee-colored liquid, powdery bone and any metal implants, like dental fillings. Alkaline hydrolysis has been used to dispose of human cadavers and dead pets since the process was modernized in the 1990s. About 10 years ago, the machines became available for ordinary funerals, and now families are requesting it more frequently. Some are motivated by environmentalism or cost, as cemeteries fill up. Others find the process more comforting than cremation, which recently edged past burial in the United States, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

The California bill was sponsored by Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who represents much of San Diego, after he was contacted by executives from Qico Inc., the company that advertises the process with the trademark “Fire to Water.” Assemblyman Gloria said that he supported the bill partly to advocate for a constituent but also because he thought that people should have more choices.

“It was definitely new to me,” he said. “I think like most people I don’t talk a lot about death. I don’t think about it a great deal; I probably shy away from it. But when the concept was brought to me, of course I needed to understand it better.” He added, “It’s pretty fascinating stuff.”