New York: opposition grows to chemical 'cremation' of human remains

religion | Mar 26, 2012 | By CNA 

 A bill that redefines cremation, to include the “chemical digestion” of human remains into liquid waste, has met with rejection from the New York State Catholic Conference. “The Church’s reverence for the sacredness of the human body and its dignity arises out of concern for both the body’s natural and supernatural properties,” the conference said in a March 19 memorandum on a bill under consideration in the state legislature.

“It is therefore essential that the body of a deceased person be treated with respect and reverence.  Processes involving chemical digestion of human remains do not sufficiently respect this dignity.”

The proposed change to New York's nonprofit corporation law would revise its definition of “cremation.” Along with its conventional meaning, “cremation” could include “any chemical process” that breaks down a human body. One such procedure, the conference noted in its memo to the legislature, is “alkaline hydrolysis.” The rarely-used process has been publicized in recent years as a “green” alternative to conventional cremation, which involves the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Alkaline hydrolysis involves using lye to dissolve bodies into a liquid substance, which proponents say can be safely poured down a drain. It is also referred to as “bio-cremation.” Along with its concern for the dignity of the human body, New York's Catholic conference is also worried that the bill could also lead to some individuals being “bio-cremated” against their will.

If the legal definition of cremation changes, the conference noted, individuals who request to be cremated after death – in the traditional sense – could inadvertently have their bodies dissolved into a waste product, due to a misunderstanding of their expressed wishes. The conference warned that the bill “contains no safeguards to prevent this from occurring.”

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