In 1888, a farmer wanted to find a way to make fertilizer from animal carcasses. So Amos Herbert Hanson developed and patented “alkaline hydrolysis.”
In Wisconsin, we know something about fertilizer, from natural (manure) to chemical. Not all of us realize that animals are used as fertilizer, but it makes sense. That “circle of life” that we’ve seen in movies.
However, did you realize your grandmother could become part of this circle?
If the State Assembly passes AB-207, alkaline hydrolysis will join funeral options available in Wisconsin. The State Senate passed its version, SB-228, on May 11.
Twenty states have passed similar legislation, including Minnesota. So, along with traditional cremation, people there can choose water cremation. Alkaline hydrolysis, also called AH, flameless cremation, water cremation, green cremation, chemical cremation, liquid cremation, aquamation, chemical disposition or dissolution.
With alkaline hydrolysis, a body is simmered/boiled in water and lye (at 199 to 304 degrees) for several hours, reducing it to a liquid and bleached bone fragments. The fragments are pulverized and returned to the deceased’s family in an urn. The liquid is washed away.
According to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA), “The sterile liquid is released via a drain to the local wastewater treatment authority in accordance with federal, state or provincial, and local laws.”
The Catholic Church opposes this form of cremation.
“Our concern is that with alkaline hydrolysis, remains are washed into a wastewater system as though the body created by God never existed,” Kim Vercauteren, executive director for the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC), testified on April 27 to the Senate Committee on Health. “Wastewater does not honor the sacredness of the body…”
CANA’s explanation added that, “In some cases, the water (from such a cremation) is diverted and used for fertilizer because of the potassium and sodium content.”
Enter the potential of Grandma, and anyone else, becoming fertilizer.
The Catholic Church does allow cremation. In June 1963, it changed its longtime opposition to the process, as long as cremation is not, as canon law states, “chosen for reasons contrast to Christian doctrine” (n. 1176.3).
Since 2015, cremations have surpassed traditional casket funerals in popularity, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. The group also predicts that, by 2040, 78% of funerals will include cremations.
People choose cremation for various reasons, such as lower costs or the smaller space needed for remains. Cremation is also considered more ecologically sound because it does not involve embalming fluids which can contaminate soil.
Likewise, many positive arguments have been presented for “water cremation,” such as not polluting the air, as fire cremations do, and using less energy overall. This argument lags a bit when one realizes that such cremation requires 100 gallons of water.
These ecology and economic points aside, putting human remains into wastewater is morally troubling. Such treatment of human remains does not offer proper respect to a body that was once a temple of the Holy Spirit and which will be raised by God on the last day.
As the WCC stated in a May 24 update, we must “remind lawmakers that the human person is God’s unique creation. Dissolving and draining human remains into the wastewater system dishonors the person.”
The bodies of our deceased loved ones should be honored and respected. Exploring environmentally conscientious burials — such as “green burials,” which do not use embalming fluid or metal vaults and caskets — are increasing in popularity and are laudable. Boiling a body down to wastewater, or even into fertilizer, is not.