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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Feuding advocates for 'politically correct corpses.'

In April I pointed to a Boston Globe story highlighting the new practice of environmentally-friendly burials, in which one's body actually does return to dust rather than lay there, chemically-preserved for all time, in a sealed casket. The New York Times discovers a new angle to the story — and some great soundbites — and puts it on the front page today:

In the green scheme of things, death becomes a vehicle for land conservation and saving the planet. "It is not enough to be a corpse anymore," said Thomas Lynch, an author, poet and Michigan funeral director. "Now, you have to be a politically correct corpse."

But just what is a politically correct corpse is an increasingly thorny issue. In recent months, there has been a struggle for the soul of the emerging industry between [35-year-old Tyler] Cassity, an enfant terrible of the funeral business, who has made a fortune producing A&E-style digitized biographies of the dead, and Dr. Billy Campbell, who pioneered the movement in the United States and who has the studious intensity of a somewhat nerdy birder.

Good reading! And despite Patricia Leigh Brown's entertaining and dismissive tone — "the generation of composters who wrote their own wedding vows and opted for natural childbirth," ha ha! — I'm still hoping that by the time I shuffle off this mortal coil, green burials will have gone mainstream.

("Eco-Friendly Burial Sites Give a Chance to Be Green Forever," Patricia Leigh Brown, New York Times 8.13.05, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 13 August 2005 at 10:37 AM

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Heather Janules:

August 14, 2005 10:57 AM | Permalink for this comment

For those interested in the topic, I recommend checking out the book "Stiff" by Mary Roach. It is a history of cadavers and it includes an engaging chapter on the subject of alternative disposal of the dead.

Another story for another day - one of my research papers in seminary studied the influence of Unitarians in burial reform. Did you know that the first minister to endorse cremation in a sermon was Octavious Brooks Frothingham? That Transcendentalist philosophy and theology - along with urban reform sentiments of the day on the part of the moneyed-class - sparked the garden cemetary movement? That Jenkin Lloyd Jones was an initial advocate for the "celebrate the life"-style memorial service over the effusive and melodramatic funeral?

May the reform continue...


August 14, 2005 01:30 PM | Permalink for this comment

Another alternative I came across, quite by accident in a random hop-skip-jumping across the Web: having one's ashes mixed with concrete to be placed in coastal waters as artificial "eternal" reefs.

Second the recommendation on "Stiff." Sometimes the author seems to be trying a little too hard to treat the subject lightly, but it is both hugely informative and entertaining throughout.

Bob Smietana:

August 18, 2005 06:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

Suprising to see that Lynch isn't a fan of this, though as a funeral director, it's probably bad for his business. He's one of the most thoughtful writers about death--and a critic of funeral services where the corpse is not present.


August 30, 2005 09:32 AM | Permalink for this comment

I, too, was about to recommend the book _Stiffs_! In addition to the great chapter on burial, cremation, etc., the book makes you think more deeply about our impact on the planet and how we can make many positive contributions to life even in death.

Had no idea that UUs had played such a significant role in this area--thanks, Heather.

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