The Business of Death: Cremation vs Embalming

The Dead in a pot - Cremated.

Unbeknownst to many who don’t live in the US, Death is a very lucrative industry. And if the Indians think that the Haridwar-based Sati-Ghat side Panda (pandit) is asking for too much when he demands Rs 2000 (~$40), then one has to look at the proportions of spending one has to do in US on death. And, the way trends are in the US, the Death Industry is worried as…. Hell!!

As per a rather morbidly named “Cremation Association of North America” – the cremations are up as over 30% of the Americans choose cremations compared to 6% in 1975. One reason could be, as this article points out –

The funeral industry is in the midst of a transition of titanic proportions. America is secularizing at a rapid pace, with almost 25% of the country describing itself as un-church. Americans, embracing a less religious view of the afterlife, are now asking for a “spiritual” funeral instead of a religious one. And cremation numbers are up.

But I think the more important reason is the cost of it all.

Talking with funeral directors at the conference, I began to realize the scope of the crisis spurred by the rise of cremation and its new importance. As one former funeral director said, “If the family wanted a cremation, we’d say ‘That’ll be $595,’ hand them the urn and show them the door. Not anymore though.” The industry is scrambling to find a way to add value-added cremation services to remain solvent.

As I said, if one hates the Sati-ghat-side Pandit for using the occasion of the death of your loved one to extract a thousand Rupees more from you, the talk of the Funeral Directors in US wil make you want to call them “Devil incarnates”!

All of us in India are too familiar with the “Value Add Cremations”. These directors need to take a trip to Haridwar to get creative. And they need to inject a lot of Hindu ritualistic nonsense – because a lot of it during the death time, has become that. Though, not all of the rituals are bad. I think the Hindu rituals are most consistent with the passage and journey of the soul. There is a long history of that understanding that has been baked into the rituals. However, the way some of these have been extrapolated using rather useless symbolism – as opposed to awareness – is what’s damning.

In any case, for these directors, they don’t want to get the “awareness” bit. That will do them no good. What they need is the needless ritualistic symbolism. Now, THAT would be an amazing profit enhancing strategy.

With the creative solutions from Haridwar, these Funeral Directors, who are already talking about how to do a Disney World to the Funeral Services – to “create the right experience”, and making the new Funeral Service ambiance get the “High end Yoga Studio” look for the more Secular amongst the Dead (interesting the those who bury are “religious” and those who cremate are Spiritual and Secular – biases at work, although they get it right in some way.)

What is going to trouble a lot of Churches and Ministers is the relative irrelevance of the ministers in the funeral service, as the more “Secular” Funeral Director takes over. Maybe, there could be a new demand for “Spiritual New Age Ministers/Pundits” now for the Crematoriums? Just a thought.

Now, there is one final reason why Cremation should trump Burial and embalming. Even in death the Embalmed Burial is a polluter and potential killer of people. So, if you are buried, you are bound to take several to your world along with you sooner than later (on their own natural schedule). Due to the chemicals used and the bad disposal methods, the embalmers are contracting high incidence of cancer and also the land resources are being polluted.

The message attached to all these services seems to be: cremation is green, and if you choose something else, you’re a polluter, even in death. Funeral homes employ a host of chemicals, chief among them formaldehyde, to embalm a body. Some funeral homes either don’t have a correct method of disposal, or, if they are in a rural area without a sewage system, dispose of the carcinogenic—formaldehyde being intended for use on things that are already dead—right down the drain. In 2007, an EPA report found dangerously high levels of formaldehyde and phenol in drinking water in locations near funeral homes throughout New York state. The burial of a corpse in a metal coffin, with the embalmed body inside, deposits other chemicals in groundwater. The coffin’s metals leach into the ground, followed eventually by the chemicals used to preserve the corpses. Every graveyard may be lush and green, but when you look at its chemical makeup it starts to look like a mini-Brownfield. (Distressingly, higher rates of cancer have been found among embalmers who have to breathe in this stuff every day.)

Cremation is GREEN. While it uses less of your Green Bucks! :)