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Cheaper Environmentally Friendly Body Disposal

By James Donahue

Most people in America buy life insurance, a title that is in a sense an oxymoron. That is because the insurance has nothing to do with life. Instead it provides survivors the financial means to deal with death. And like everything else, the cost of dying has become very expensive.

The traditional way of dealing with the disposal of the remains of friends and relatives has, for years, been to get the person declared dead by a physician or certified mortician then send it by hearse to a funeral home. There the blood is drained and replaced with embalming fluid, a toxic formaldehyde that preserves the remains long enough for the family to hold three days of mourning over an open casket.

The mortician literally paints the body to make it appear as if the body is merely asleep. It then lies in state as people come to pay their respects and fill the room with flowers. This period lasts about three days. Then there is a funeral service, usually conducted by a religious leader. Sometimes people are hired to sing. Family and friends eulogize. Then the body is moved to a cemetery where it is lowered into a concrete encasement in the ground and sealed there for all time. The sealing of the coffin is now required by law to prevent the toxins formaldehyde and other chemicals injected into the person prior to death from seeping into the surrounding earth and ground water.

All-in-all, the traditional American funeral is a costly affair, ranging from $6000 to over $10,000, depending on how extravagant the family chooses to have it.

Now that hard times are back, and with most people living from paycheck-to-paycheck, providing they still have jobs, the option of cremation has grown in popularity. If the family chooses the cheap route, the cost of embalming, three days of mourning, buying and burying a casket and all of the other unnecessary customs can be skipped. Even at that, disposing of the remains by fire and smoke can cost up to $1,000 and we do not escape polluting the atmosphere.

Other than secretly burying the remains in the orchard or dumping the body in a landfill, is there an even better and less costly alternative?

Artist and inventor Jae Rhim Lee, a Research Fellow in the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology at Cambridge, MA, thinks she may have a better idea. She is working to train a toxin-cleaning mushroom that will feed on bodies. Her name for the concept is the Infinity Mushroom.

Lee, in a recent interview with New Scientist magazine, said she believes people need to develop a new way of thinking about death.

The idea would be to simply place the deceased body inside a “mushroom death suit” where the mushrooms go to work, quickly consuming the remains.

Creating a workable death suit where mushrooms will do their work is not as easy as it sounds. Lee said mushrooms spores must have the right environment before they grow so the suit must be made of the right fabric and the body may even have to be covered with some kind of substance that will attract the mushrooms to it. But she thinks the idea is possible.

For the death suit to be accepted, however, people need to change their long-held traditional methods of disposing of the dead. That most people are too poor to pay the cost of a traditional funeral may be a big attraction.

“It’s the idea that somehow death acceptance is needed for environmental stewardship,” Lee told the magazine. “All the industrial toxins we emit into the atmosphere and the soil become part of our bodies. That is difficult to accept because it means we are also physical beings, animals, who will die and decay.”