A body in death does not spread disease. Most diseases die when we die. For this reason, we are unlikely to contract a contagious disease at the death of a person for which we are caring. We are, in fact, at risk when they are alive. We surely won’t contract a disease they did not have. There will not be an outbreak of cholera from a body that in life did not have this disease. If you think about it, it is logical at death your body dies and with it all the disease you had. In times of great natural disaster, we hear how those affected by it are afraid of the spread of disease because of many unburied bodies. We hear it on the news and whispered at work. The truth is our bodies are not the disease houses we imagine them to be. It is just not so. We may wish to bury those who died out of a sense of culture or religious perspective, but should not be done out of fear of the spread of disease.
Even if we intellectually understand this, the idea that the body after death will not pollute the world does not sit well with us as a culture. Somehow we imagine that our bodies were formed from something else than from this earth. We imagine that we do not belong to this planet and that somehow we are wrong here. We imagine that our natural presence is detrimental to the earth. We are all from earth and to the earth one way, the other or we return. Humans are as much a part of nature as any tree or flower. I have never heard anyone get nervous or upset about deer or bears dying in the woods or that their bodies spread disease. No one really cares too much about their burials or disposition. The only time our society pays any attention to animals’ death is the death of our pets. Some municipalities may have by-laws against burying pets in backyards. I think this is our way of making our pets more and more human. Unless you live below sea level or close to a body of water that floods, there should be no concern to anyone about burying pets in the backyard. This however, is another topic for another day. I always tell people to follow the law. Make sure, you actually see the law and not rely on some third party who may have a conflict of interest in the matter.
We are from the earth and when we die, we need to return our bodies to the earth. In some cultures and religion, cremation is the way this is accomplished. The topic here is not what way is greener, but that the body returns back to the elements. It’s a closed system. The earth itself is a great filter and when a body returns to the earth in ground burial, the elements of the body return to the same system. The process of life and death is really a beautiful thing. We are born from parents, live our lives, touch others along the way, try to do as little harm, and our bodies return again to the same creation from which it came.
Knowing that the body at death is not a storehouse of disease, and the reality of the law are sometime two different things. In the US, only 19 states grant all its citizens the freedom to have a natural body for burial. (Final Rites Joshua Slocum and Lisa Carlson p. 57) For the rest, embalming is rarely required. No one needs to be embalmed, but sometimes the state seems to think you do. I suggest if you want to know what requirements you state has, either contact us or purchase your own individual states rights page at Funeral Consumers Alliance.
Why are we so concerned about the body? I think it stems from the fear of death, and maybe the fear of our own mortality. We can’t imagine our death and some of us might feel a sense that when our life passes away and we die, our life will have meant nothing or have had no real substance. Maybe we think that all is passing away, so why should we even care about the body. Maybe we should bury quickly or cremate so we do not have a body to deal with. Those are choices we all must make for ourselves. Whatever choice you make, know that we are all part of this thing we call the earth. We are joined through it. We are part of this earth and our bodies are part of this earth. We need to stop fearing our bodies and death and get on with living.