Bodily disposal laws

2  Bodily disposal laws

Disposal of the dead is a fundamental aspect of our existence; it is an inevitable activity, which cannot be avoided.1


From time immemorial, removing the dead from the active realm of the living has been an urgent task when someone dies. All societies engage in this basic activity, and despite religious and cultural variations, there is a striking degree of commonality in corpse disposal practices worldwide, with burial and cremation remaining the two most popular.2 Certain aspects are heavily regulated – for example, English law has detailed legislation on the provision, siting and ongoing management of burial grounds and crematoria.3 In contrast, there are comparatively few laws governing actual bodily disposal.4 Common law rules and isolated statutory provisions do exist,5 while public health requirements alongside the basic premise of respect for the dead also exert a strong influence.6 Aligned to the latter concept is the idea that a particular disposal method must be socially acceptable to be a viable option – something which depends on contemporary mores, as well as the death rituals and bodily disposal methods traditionally embraced by a particular society. This chapter analyses the current methods of corpse disposal in England and Wales (and throughout the rest of the UK), examining the permissible variations on each method and the fate of any materials produced by a parti cular form of disposal. It also identifies alternative techniques that are available in other jurisdictions,7 if the deceased’s remains are transported elsewhere.8

Contemporary bodily disposal choices are increasingly shaped by three factors. As noted in the previous chapter,9 the rituals associated with cremation and burial have changed dramatically, given the emergence of more secular and personalised funerals. However, this assumes sufficient funds to support the deceased or their family’s funeral of choice. Bodily disposal methods are increasingly dictated by financial constraints, with significant cost variations between burial and cremation10 (as well as regional fluctuations);11 and while we might think of funerals as recession-proof industries, the reality is very different in an era of widespread austerity, reduced consumer spending and an ageing population.12 Recent estimates suggest that the cost of a basic funeral has increased by up to 80 per cent in recent years (well beyond the rate of inflation), and that further price rises are likely.13 Finally, environmental concerns are playing an increasingly important role, with modern disposal techniques and their attendant rites being driven by the need to be ecologically sensitive.14 New and innovative methods are also being developed,15 with the core aims of reducing the environmental impact of corpse disposal and utilising the ‘waste’ products in a way that benefits both the living and the earth itself.16

I.    Burial

Burial of the dead has always been permissible at common law, and typically involves depositing a corpse17 in the ground.18 Like the rituals attached to it, the reasons for choosing burial vary significantly, and include personal preference, adherence to social conventions, or the fact that certain religions or cultures insist on the committal of human remains.

In England and Wales, burial is now secondary to cremation in terms of disposal choices.19 Ad hoc laws governing specific aspects of burial are located across a range of (sometimes archaic) statutory provisions,20 and there are rules concerning the minimum depth of graves21 and record-keeping requirements22 (to list some examples). However, there is no legal requirement that the dead be interred in specially designated places.23 As a result, burial is not confined to cemeteries or churchyards, and other permissible options are examined below. Other legal myths surrounding burial (and funerals more generally) can also be debunked. For example, there is no legal requirement to use a funeral director and no specific ceremony is necessary (unless burial is in consecrated ground).24 Likewise, English law does not insist on embalming unless, for example, a corpse is being transported abroad or brought back into the jurisdiction,25 and while a corpse must be “decently covered”26 for burial, the use of a coffin is not mandatory.27

1.    Burial in a churchyard or cemetery

Most interments still take place in either a churchyard or a cemetery.28 Despite certain shared characteristics,29 both locations are subject to different systems of law and regulatory frameworks because of their respective origins – and these are noted briefly below. From an environmental perspective however, churchyard and cemetery burial have come under increasing criticism, with concerns over soil contamination from embalming fluids, the use of natural resources in coffins and other containers which are left to disintegrate slowly in the ground, and the long-term sustainability of sole-occupied permanent graves from a land-use perspective.30

(a)    Churchyard burial

Churchyards consecrated according to the rites of the Church of England are subject to ecclesiastical law31 and protected under faculty jurisdiction.32 At common law, every parishioner has a right to be buried in their parish churchyard as long as it remains open for interments33 – an entitlement that extends to all inhabitants of that particular parish.34 The right is confined to burial in an ‘ordinary’ manner,35 and is little more than the right to be placed in a grave having been taken there “in a decent and inoffensive manner”.36 Although enforceable at common law, any questions surrounding the exercise of the right are within the exclusive cognisance of ecclesiastical courts.37

(b)    Cemetery burial

The nineteenth century saw the gradual erosion of the Church of England’s monopoly on burial, as local authorities assumed responsibility for disposal of the dead and the provision of public burial grounds. An array of statutory provisions was enacted during this time,38 and isolated parts remain in force despite the consolidating reforms introduced by the Local Government Act 1972, which still governs the provision and maintenance of cemeteries39 by “burial authorities” in England and Wales today,40 with more detailed burial provisions set out in ancillary statutory regulations.41 Both sanitary concerns and, to a lesser extent, health and safety laws also regulate specific aspects of bodily disposal within cemeteries; and while there are no legal restrictions on who can be interred here, many cemeteries have physically demarcated areas that are reserved for particular religious denominations.42 However, where part of a cemetery has been marked off and consecrated according to the rites of the Church of England, it is protected under faculty jurisdiction.43

Other types of cemetery include those founded as commercial enterprises by private operators,44 and private burial grounds set aside by specific religions.45 Although the 1972 Act does not apply here, other generic burial laws are still relevant.46

(c)    Exclusive rights of burial

Where someone is buried in a churchyard or cemetery, those responsible for making the funeral arrangements will acquire an ‘exclusive right of burial’ upon purchasing a grave plot47 – in other words, a right to inter one or more sets of human remains in that specific plot, and to erect a tombstone or other suitable memorial.48 The result is a private, family grave that can accommodate several related interments, over a set period of time.49

Both the legal status of exclusive rights of burial and their consequent scope have been debated extensively, with opinions divided on whether they generate proprietary interests in or mere contractual rights over the grave in question.50 In practical terms, this becomes an issue if the grave is damaged or interfered with in any way51 (what the grantee can do about this), and if the burial ground is sold at a later date (can the exclusive right of burial be enforced against the purchaser). Problems can also arise within families where the grantee has promised to transfer the burial plot and all rights assoc iated with it to another family member, but later changes his/her mind.52

The grantee will usually be the person who secured the exclusive right of burial, though contributions from different parties towards the cost of the grave and overall funeral expenses can create complex legal entitlements. For example, in Re West Norwood Cemetery,53 the deceased’s son and a maternal uncle had purchased the exclusive right to a burial plot in the consecrated part of a municipal cemetery following the death of the deceased’s wife over a decade earlier; the rest of the family (the deceased and his other six children) had contributed to the cost of the funeral expenses. Following the deceased’s death, the son objected to his father’s ashes being placed in the same grave as those of his mother and wanted to exhume them, arguing that he (the son) was the registered owner of the grave plot and that the other siblings had forged his signature to enable their father’s ashes to be interred there. While the court accepted that the son was the legal owner of exclusive rights of burial in the plot, the actual grant was not definitive as to ownership of these rights. Instead, the son held them on constructive trust for the other family members (including the deceased) as a result of their contributions towards the funeral expenses,54 and could not object to his father’s ashes being placed in the grave.55

While Norwood was essentially an exhumation case, the impact of ownership rights can also be felt in subsequent disputes around commemoration of the dead and who controls the type of memorial and any wording used.56 Turning to duration, exclusive rights of burial are no longer granted in perpetuity but typically expire after a specified period (usually between 50–100 years).57 This impacts on the potential re-use of existing graves.

(d)    Space constraints and issues of permanency?

Burial of the dead raises long-term land-use and management issues. Existing burial grounds are often viewed as ‘sacred’ places to be maintained and preserved in perpetuity – out of respect for those interred there, but also as repositories of important historical information recorded on individual gravestones. Some would argue that setting aside land in this way appropriates a finite and valuable resource that could be better utilised by the living.58 The fact that “burial space is essentially mutable” and its “significance … alters as time accrues between the living and the dead”59 also means that eternal preservation claims are less convincing after interred remains have disintegrated, and connections between the living and the dead span several generations.60 Meanwhile financial pressures also impact on older burial grounds, faced with reduced income from interments yet ongoing maintenance and repairing liabilities.

Established churchyards and cemeteries in England and Wales are facing a serious shortage of burial space, with many either full or approaching capacity – a situation which will exacerbate as populations increase,61 and the lack of affordable grave sites drives funeral costs even higher. Adjacent land may not be available to meet increasing demand through enlargement,62 while newly dedicated cemeteries on the periphery of towns and cities (where more land is available) may not appeal to those who want to maintain connections with their local community or with dead relatives interred elsewhere. To address these problems, a 2004 Home Office consultation paper advocated re-using older graves in cemeteries by means of a ‘lift and deepen’ technique whereby remains would be exhumed, and reinterred at a greater depth – thus freeing up more space.63 Only graves of 100 years old or more would be eligible, to ensure (as far as possible) that “the remains had been reduced to skeletal material, and that there would be no immediate descendants of the deceased”.64 Stakeholder responses were favourable,65 resulting in several London boroughs being granted the right to re-use graves.66

Intensifying the use of existing burial space seems like an obvious solution to an ongoing problem, in terms of land management and sustainability. Of course, disturbing human remains, combined with the spectre of multiple and unrelated burials in the same plot (albeit over a lengthy period of time) may be unacceptable to some – even if the practice is commonplace throughout the rest of Europe.67

2.    Natural burial

Sometimes referred to as ‘woodland burial’,68 natural burial is a relatively modern trend in bodily disposal, which frames the decomposing body within a discourse of environmental sustainability. It involves placing an unembalmed corpse in a biodegradable coffin or shroud, and interring it in a shallow grave69 in a field or woodland area; individual graves eventually become part of the natural landscape, and are ‘marked’ by a tree or shrub, as opposed to a traditional headstone or permanent memorial.70 There are currently over 200 natural burial grounds in the UK with the vast majority spread across England,71 and while there are no specific laws governing natural burial,72 individual sites must have planning permission.

Although it still represents a small proportion of the country’s overall disposal choices,73 natural burial is an increasingly popular option for environmentally friendly individuals, which provides the deceased with a “route to ecological immortality” and the bereaved with “a pleasant and sympathetic environment” to remember their dead.74 The latter point might also appeal to aesthetically minded individuals who want to play an active role in creating beautiful surroundings for future generations. It has been suggested that the rhetoric of natural burial as a form of nourishing and giving back to the earth challenges ingrained notions of toxicity around decaying remains, and blurs conventional boundaries between the living and the dead.75 However, while the overall environmental impact may be lower, this method of disposal still requires extensive land use.

3.    Burial on private land

While the vast majority of burials take place in designated burial sites, interment on private land is another option.76 Usually favoured where there is some personal or family connection with the land in question,77 there is nothing to prevent an individual from being buried on a family farm, or even in their own back garden, provided that the grave is of sufficient depth and the requisite distance from existing water supplies to prevent possible contamination.78 While restrictive covenants affecting a piece of land might occasionally prevent it being used for private burial, there is no need to secure planning permission since a limited number of non-commercial interments on a given piece of land will not constitute a change in land use.79

Burial on private land is rare though isolated examples do occur.80 Owners of neighbouring properties may not be comfortable with the idea, given society’s preoccupation with death boundaries and the dead being “kept in their place, [in cemeteries] marked off from everyday life”.81 Those contemplating the burial of a loved one in their garden or on family land should also bear in mind the longer-term implications, especially if the property is sold at a later date. Beyond a likely depreciation in value due to the presence of a burial site,82 would the family still be able to visit the grave if they no longer owned the land, and how would they secure access;83 would the new owners be prepared to give some sort of guarantee that the buried corpse would remain in situ and not be disturbed in the future; failing that, could the remains be exhumed and moved to a new location?84 These and other land management concerns might help to explain why the number of private land burials is so small.

4.    Burial at sea

While scattering post-cremation ashes at sea (or on any waterway) is relatively unproblematic,85 a conscious decision to dispose of an uncremated corpse by boat or ship, off the coast of a particular country86 is both costly and legally complex – even if there are environmental benefits.87 Sea burial requires a special licence from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England and Wales.88 Any such permission is subject to strict specifications; aside from the necessary documentation,89 the corpse must not be embalmed and there are restrictions on the composition and design of the coffin (solid softwood and weighted down, with holes bored along the sides to allow rapid ingress of water).90 Practical restraints will also play a much larger role in sea burial; the amount of space available on the boat means that fewer people can be involved, and (unlike land disposal) adverse weather conditions may result in the disposal being postponed or the off-shore element being cut short.

II.   Cremation

Cremation involves the burning of human bodies at a high temperature to produce ashes, and now accounts for almost 75 per cent of bodily disposals in England and Wales.91 However, this was not always the case.

Although widely practised by the ancient Greeks and Romans,92 cremation fell into disfavour with the spread of Christianity, and its emphasis on resurrection of the body.93 Religious and social taboos were reinforced by negative connotations around burning bodies. As White points out:

[C]remation was regarded with repulsion by many, who knew it mainly either as a pagan method of disposing of corpses, or as a method of execution in former times for heretics, witches and female traitors, or as a means by which infanticides … attempted to conceal the evidence of their crimes.94

Yet, cremation began to be promoted as a socially acceptable and more sanitary method of corpse disposal towards the end of nineteenth century, and while it slowly began to assume popularity, cremation rates only started to rise significantly in the latter half of the twentieth century. Various socio-cultural factors have contributed to this, including the emergence of more secular societies, and the lifting of bans on cremation by certain faiths.95 Practical considerations include growing urbanisation, land space constraints around the provision of graves and the lower costs of cremation relative to burial. Cremation also offers more flexibility, producing ashes that can be divided among the bereaved or ‘used’ in various ways after the death of a loved one.96

1.    Modern cremation laws

Doubts existed over whether cremation was permissible under English law when this method of disposal emerged in the latter half of the nineteenth century.97 The first authoritative ruling came in R v Price98 in which a father was indicted for attempting to burn the remains of his five-month old son in a field nearby his house, two days after the child’s death. Stephen J held that cremation was lawful so long as it did not constitute a public nuisance and no attempt was made to prevent a coroner’s inquest where one was deemed necessary.99 Any lingering doubts were removed by the Cremation Act 1902.

The 1902 Act still governs the burning of human remains in England and Wales, and allows cremation authorities100 to establish crematoria under the terms of the legislation.101 Supplementary directives are contained in the Cremation (England and Wales) Regulations 2008,102 which prescribe the conditions in which cremation can take place.103 On the whole, cremation is more heavily regulated than burial – hardly surprising given the finality of the process and the potential for concealing crime through destruction of the body and vital physical evidence. For example, there are stringent legal rules around who should apply for cremation and the documentation required.104

An applicant must be either the deceased’s executor or a “near relative” aged 16 or over,105 and cremation cannot take place until the necessary paperwork has been completed106 – including a designated application form, both medical and confirmatory medical certificates, a coroner’s certificate (where necessary)107 and overall authority to cremate from a medical referee.108 As with burial, there is no legal requirement to use a funeral director109 or to embalm a corpse prior to cremation.110 And while the use of a coffin is not mandatory as long as the corpse is decently covered,111 individual crematoria will probably insist on one to facilitate transport and handling.112 Finally, crem ation authorities are obliged to keep a permanent register of all cremations carried out by them, and to retain any preliminary certificates and documentation for at least 15 years.113

In the last two decades cremation has come under increasing environmental scrutiny,114 with concerns about mercury emissions from vaporised amalgam fillings in teeth,115 as well as being ‘wasteful’ in terms of both gas energy consumption116 and the destruction of natural resources through the burning of coffins (which also emits carbon dioxide).117 Conventional arguments around the land-use benefits of cremation have also been challenged, given the widespread practice of interring ashes in designated burial sites.118 Crematoria have been forced to remove harmful products from emissions, installing expensive abatement equipment to meet government targets for a 100 per cent reduction in mercury levels by 2020.119 However, emissions control is only one aspect of a bigger ecological picture. For example, many crematoria participate in recycling programmes, which collect metal hip joints and similar objects that fail to vaporise during cremation; these are smelted down and re-used, with a portion of the annual profits being donated to death-related charities.120 Recycling heat from the cremation process is another option; for example, in 2011 Redditch Borough Council announced plans to warm the water in its local swimming pool using heat from the municipal crematorium.121 Thus cremation has moved beyond bodily disposal, to a “carefully managed process of reuse”122 for the benefit of the living. At a more basic level, however, human remains are still converted into ashes – a dark powder, devoid of organic material and with no ‘nutrient’ value.123

2.    Licensed crematorium or ‘DIY’ cremation?

While there are a range of physical sites where burial of the dead can occur, cremation is much more restricted. In this country (as in most Western societies) human remains are invariably reduced to ashes in a crematorium, and not on open-air funeral pyres or in private furnaces elsewhere.124 However, the legality or otherwise of ‘DIY’ cremation has been called into question.

As already noted, R v Price125 established that burning human remains outdoors was permissible at common law, as long as it did not constitute a public nuisance or obstruct the coroner in performing his/her statutory duty.126 The same reasoning was applied as recently as 2005 in R v Wriggleworth,127 where a son continued to claim his dead mother’s pension for two years despite having set fire to her body in the back garden of the family home some eight weeks after her death.128 No public nuisance had been complained of, and the son was not guilty of preventing an inquest given that his mother had previously been diagnosed with terminal cancer.129 While these rulings are relatively straightforward, the common law position is only part of the picture. Since cremation is heavily regulated by statute and ancillary regulations, an obvious question is whether these instruments prescribe the only conditions in which this method of corpse disposal can take place (rendering anything else unlawful), or whether open-air and other forms of private cremation fall outside this particular legal framework.

Section 8(1) of the Cremation Act 1902 makes it a criminal offence to “knowingly carry out or procure or take part in the burning of any human remains except in accordance with … the provisions of this Act”. At a cursory glance, this might seem to answer the question just posed. Yet while s 2 of the 1902 Act defines a ‘crematorium’ for the purposes of the Act as “any building fitted with appliances for the burning of human remains”, and subsequent versions of the accompanying regulations have provided that no cremation can take place except in a crematorium (the opening of which has been notified to the Secretary of State),130 the long-term failure to define ‘cremation’ hinted at a legislative lacuna.131 Shortly after the 1902 Act was passed, the issue was raised in R v Byers.132 After children in her care had died, the defendant procured burial money from the children’s mothers; instead of interring the remains, the defendant burnt the corpses on a fire in her kitchen grate and was charged under s 8 of the Cremation Act.133 Interpreting ‘cremation’ as burning human remains in a crematorium as defined by the Act and directing an acquittal on the various criminal charges,134 the decision in Byers seemed to imply that burning corpses outside a crematorium (i.e. otherwise than by ‘cremation’) was not necessarily unlawful. A century later, the same issues were explored in depth in Ghai v Newcastle City Council.135

In January 2006, Davender Ghai, founder President of the Newcastle-based Anglo-Asian Friendly Society, approached Newcastle City Council about dedicating land on the outskirts of the city and close to flowing water for traditional funeral pyres. These were commonplace in India, and Mr Ghai believed their absence in Britain prevented the transmigration of the deceased’s soul while inflicting remorse on bereaved Hindu families living here. Several months later, the council declined the request on the basis that the current law prohibited funeral pyres; Mr Ghai challenged this decision.136 In the High Court, Cranston J upheld the council’s decision based on the wording of the legislation, which also included a new definition of ‘cremation’ in the 2008 Regulations:

In my view…, the combined effect of the legislation and attendant regulations is plain: a cremation is the burning of human remains: regulation 2(1); all cremations must take place in a crematorium: regulation 13; a crematorium is a building: (1902 Act, section 2); and the burning of human remains other than in accordance with the provisions of the 2008 Regulations is a criminal offence: (1902 Act, section 8). Thus the burning of human remains, other than in a building, such as on an open air pyre, is an offence. 137

Cranston J also rejected Mr Ghai’s claim that the legal requirement to be cremated in a crematorium infringed his rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights; while accepting that the claimant’s right to practise his religion encompassed his entitlement as an orthodox Hindu to be cremated on an open-air pyre, any resulting interference was both proportionate and justified.138 On appeal, however, the discussion shifted to what constituted a permissible ‘building’ for the purposes of s 2 of the 1902 Act, Mr Ghai having conceded that his religious beliefs could be satisfied by cremation within a proposed structure as long as the actual process was by ‘traditional fire’ and sunlight could shine directly on his body.139

In some ways, it is unfortunate that the ruling on whether the 1902 Act and accompanying regulations prohibit funeral pyres was overshadowed by the human rights aspect of the first instance decision in Ghai. Cranston J’s observations on the subject would seem to provide a fairly definitive answer – though White has argued that, given the shift in emphasis at the Court of Appeal stage and consequent failure to address the issue in the higher court, “we still have no authoritative ruling about whether pyres outside crematoria are prohibited by [the legislation]”.140

3.    Dealing with the ashes

Following cremation, there is the additional question of what happens to the ashes.141 In England and Wales, these can be lawfully removed from the crematorium142 and, under the 2008 Regulations, must be given to the person who applied for cremation.143 However, there is no legal obligation to retrieve ashes or to deal with them in a particular way, resulting in unclaimed remains being interred or dispersed in the crematorium gardens.144 Many families were content for this to happen in the past, though recent years have seen a growing percentage of ashes being removed from crematoria145 as the twenty-first century trend towards individualised funeral rituals exerts its influence on contemporary ash disposal practices. Instead of simply entrusting ashes to communal and depersonalised sections of crematoria, they are increasingly dealt with in specialised ways which suggest a “more materially engaged connection with the remains of the dead”.146

Ashes attract a broader range of disposal options than corpses, given the absence of public health concerns alongside their physical compactness, portability, fluidity and divisibility.147 Conventional choices include interment in existing family burial plots148 or in miniature graves in specially reserved sections of municipal cemeteries,149 as well as placement in a columbarium or niche.150 Ashes can also be kept at home in a commemorative urn – either as a transitory measure while a decision is made about a final resting place,151 or as a long-term arrangement that symbolises an ongoing meta-physical connection to the dead. However, scattering ashes in places which the deceased had a strong personal and emotional attachment to in life152 is a relatively recent phenomenon.153 In England and Wales (as in the rest of the UK) there are few laws surrounding ash dispersal,154 and no established social conventions. Scattering can be informal and unceremonious; it does not have to be a solemn affair,155 and can extend beyond the earth’s physical surface if, for example, a loved one’s ashes are exploded inside a celebratory firework or launched into space.156 The fact that cremated remains are “much more open to symbolic creativity”157 has also lead to them being converted into more permanent (and increasingly innovative) memorials to the deceased. For example, the ashes of a loved one can be converted into a certified diamond as a “unique … and timeless” memento,158 or used to create a memorial reef as a “meaningful contribution to future generations … [and] to the marine environment”.159 These and other creative practices are part of a growing movement towards what Davies describes as “consumerist death style”.160

III.  New and emerging methods: Resomation and promession

Although burial and cremation dominate the bodily disposal landscape, two new techniques are being developed which could alter this. Both have environmental impact and sustainability at their core, and are being actively promoted within the deathcare industry on this basis.161

1.    Resomation

Resomation162 is a liquefaction process which uses alkaline hydrolysis to dissolve the body’s organic matter in a heated and pressurised steel container; the result is a sterile liquid which is either disposed of through the municipal water treatment system or put to some other use (for example, as a fertiliser), and bones which can be crushed and given to the deceased’s family in the same way as ashes produced by conventional cremation.163 Advocates of resomation emphasise that it is more environmentally friendly than cremation because the process uses less energy and does not release carbon dioxide and other trace chemicals (such as mercury from dental fillings) into the atmosphere.164 Opponents argue that “flushing human remains down the drain” is “undignified, cold … [and] unsanitary”,165 and that the actual physical process resonates with the brutal punishments meted out by drug lords, dictators and murderers who dissolved their victims in acid baths.166 Less sensationalist, yet equally cogent, are concerns over post-resomation bodily liquids being recycled within the drinking water system or promoting food growth as fertilisers, and whether this would be “culturally acceptable”.167

Resomation facilities have been introduced in a small number of US states,168 and also in parts of Australia.169 In Britain, the process is being driven by Glasgow-based company Resomation Ltd,170 with plans to make the technology widely available over the next few years at a comparable cost to cremation.

2.    Promession

Described by one American lawyer as a variant on freeze drying,171 pro mession is a high-tech yet simplistic concept, which utilises the fact that humans are composed primarily of water. After being initially frozen to –18°C, the (coffined) body is super-cooled in liquid nitrogen at temperatures approaching –200 °C; the brittle remains are then shattered (using ultra sonic vibration) into an odourless, organic residue. After the water content has been evaporated and dispersed into the atmosphere, the resultant dry powder is placed in a small bio-degradable container and inter red in a shallow grave where both ‘coffin’ and contents will turn into compost within 6–12 months.172 Promoted as a form of “ecological burial”,173 exponents of promession highlight the environmental benefits of using liquid nitrogen instead of fossil fuels, alongside the fact that the end-product contributes to the soil and takes up much less space than conventional burial.174 However, the prospect of freeze-drying corpses and smashing them into pieces on a vibrating table may be regarded as unpalatable by some.

As things currently stand, promession is still in the developmental stages, and is not commercially available as a bodily disposal option in the UK175 or elsewhere.176

3.    Moral status and legal status?

Only gold members can continue reading. Log In or Register to continue