WelCom August 2021
Washington, Colorado and Oregon are now among the US states that have legalised the process of converting human bodies into soil, a procedure the Catholic Church says fails to show ‘respect for the body of the deceased’. Meanwhile, California and New York are seeking to be next in line to allow human composting.
The process for composting a body was introduced by the Seattle-based company, Recompose, in 2019.
Here’s how it works. A dead body is broken down through a process known as Natural Organic Reduction by placing the body in a reusable vessel, covering it with wood chips and aerating it, which creates an environment for microbes and essential bacteria. The body, over a span of about 30 days, is fully transformed into soil.
This process is seen as a more sustainable alternative to cremation, which requires fossil fuels and releases carbon dioxide. Proponents say families can use the soil to plant a tree or a garden to honour their loved ones.
Catholic Conferences across America, however, have opposed the legalising of human composting. The Colorado Catholic Conference says it is opposed because the Church ‘teaches that the human body is sacred and the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral society’.
Joseph Sprague, executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, wrote in a letter that ‘disposing human remains in such a manner fails to show enough respect for the body of the deceased’. The New York State Catholic Conference has said in a statement that composting human remains is inappropriate.
‘While not everyone shares the same beliefs with regard to the reverent and respectful treatment of human remains, we believe there are a great many New Yorkers who would be uncomfortable at best with this proposed composting/fertilising method, which is more appropriate for vegetable trimmings and eggshells than for human bodies,’ it said.
The California Catholic Conference also came out against the proposed measure last year.
‘We believe that the “transformation” of the remains would create an emotional distance rather than a reverence for them,’ Steve Pehanich, a spokesperson for the California Catholic Conference, told Religion News Service in 2020.
The Vatican, in 2016, released guidelines for the treatment of remains as the use of cremation grew in popularity. If cremation was chosen, the Vatican urged remains be kept ‘in a sacred place’, such as a cemetery or in a church area. ‘Even with cremated remains, they directed that they remain in a communal place befitting of the dignity inherent in the human body and its connection to the immortal soul,’ Pehanich said.
Sources: Washington Post, The Tablet