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Green Funerals

Do you care about the earth?  There are options for going green after death.  

In a typical green burial, the body is not cremated, prepared with chemicals, or buried in a concrete vault. It is simply placed in a biodegradable container and interred in a gravesite to decompose fully and return to nature. Green burial is designed to have a minimal environmental impact and conserve natural resources. Also called natural burial or eco-friendly burial, green burial emphasizes simplicity and sustainability. In a typical green burial, the body is not cremated, prepared with chemicals, or buried in a concrete vault.

One option is Human composting, which is an accelerated method of human decomposition. It is scientifically referred to as Natural Organic Reduction (NOR). The body is placed in a steel container along with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Oxygen and heat are applied to the container to speed the process of decomposition.

Human composting uses the same idea as standard composting to provide an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional options like burials and cremation. It’s a growing part of the green burial movement, which aims to offer more eco-friendly ways to dispose of a body after death, including options like casket-less and embalming-free burials.

In the United States, human composting is legal in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California, New York, and Nevada. We are partnering with lawmakers to legalize human composting in more states and, eventually, around the world. See a full list of states working on legislation here.

A second option is donating to medical science. Some medical conditions, such as contagious diseases and extreme emaciation or obesity, can render a body unacceptable for scientific study. Additionally, certain circumstances of death may preclude donation. A final decision can only be made at the time of death.

There are several common misconceptions about donating your body to science (a.k.a. anatomical donations), such as which organizations accept bodies for donation.

There are three types of organizations that accept bodies for donation:

  • Medical schools

  • Medical research firms

  • For-profit companies that resell your body to different organizations

Generally, donating your body happens through medical schools. Just because you want to donate your body does not mean it will happen.  In New Hampshire, there is only one facility approved for accepting body donations, and that is Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. In New Hampshire, about 70% of people that sign up to be a body donor get accepted.

Medical schools do not need all of the anatomical donations that are available, and often will not accept a donor body. Most schools also require the individual to pre-register and fill out the necessary forms well in advance.  If you do register to donate your body but change your mind, you can cancel your registration.

Basic body donation process

  • You register in advance

  • Upon your death, your family contacts the school you registered with, and if your body meets the necessary criteria, they will handle all expenses of picking-up the body

  • The organization typically utilizes the body for up to two years, at which point they will then cremate the body at their expense and return it to the next of kin

The main benefits of body donation are the training it gives aspiring doctors. Additionally,  it removes some of the financial burden off of the family.

There are research companies that will also allow you to donate your body.  One of the largest is ScienceCare. Some for-profit companies also accept body donations to dissect a body and send parts all over the world. For example, there are companies that use the deceased as crash test dummies for  ballistic tests. If you are considering this option for any reason, read the disclosures carefully about what companies are allowed to do with your body.

There are also brokers online that claim: “We can get you a cremation for $300. We can get you a free cremation with a medical body donation company.” Cremation is cheaper than a burial and full funeral service, but not that cheap. A basic cremation package, without an urn, is about $2,500. Make sure to do your research so you know the remains you receive are truly those of your loved one and in the case of a medical body donation, you understand how the body will be used and are comfortable with it.

You are not limited to donating your body to an institution in the state where you reside.  For example, residents of New Hampshire can make arrangements for donations with any of the several medical schools in Massachusetts. In most cases, the supply far exceeds the demand and most people wanting to donate their body are not able to do so.

The decision to donate your body to science can only be made by you in advance when you are of sound mind. Families cannot donate a loved one’s body to a medical school. The primary reason for rejection is that the medical school doesn’t need any more bodies at that time.

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