Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 2 » Funeral and Memorial Practices - What To Do With The Body?, Ceremony To Mark The Death, How Will This Person Be Remembered?

Funeral and Memorial Practices - What To Do With The Body?

social cremation disposition final percent

Throughout human history, societies have prescribed appropriate final disposition of human remains. Factors affecting final disposition practices include religious beliefs, climate, geography, available space, ethnicity, economics, social customs, and environmental concerns.

Religious beliefs concerning final disposition are influenced by conceptions of what follows death, as well as the role of the physical body. Hinduism and Buddhism require cremation, while Lutherans have no formal position for or against it. The Roman Catholic Church opposed cremation until the latter part of the twentieth century, at which time cremation became permitted, but not encouraged. According to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, "For the final disposition of the body, it is ancient Christian custom to bury or entomb the bodies of the dead; cremation is permitted, unless it is evident that cremation was chosen for anti-Christian motives" (Order of Christian Funerals, 1990, p. 6).

For both religious and cultural reasons, most Jewish people are buried and not cremated. Many Jews believe in the resurrection, "the return of the soul to the resuscitated body" (Kastenbaum & Kastenbaum, 1989, p.257) and cremation has taken on added negative connotations because of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Several First Nation (American Indian) tribes have the tradition of wrapping the corpse in hides or blankets and setting it out in the air for a year or more. Habenstein & Lamers (1960) explain that, in some tribes, the wrapped body was set in a tree or on a man-made platform. Among Dakota Indians, "at the end of this period of air burial, it was given earth burial" (p. 687).

Table 1 Options for final disposition. SOURCE: Author

NOTE: Cremation can be a means or an ends to final disposition.

Immigrants to the United States have faced barriers to maintaining traditional body disposition preferences. For example, Hmong refugees to the United States have encountered problems while attempting to make final arrangements because their practices differ from the local norm. They do not wish to be embalmed, do wish to hold the funeral ceremony at home, and desire more control over selecting an auspicious location for burial.

Table 1 lists contemporary final disposition options. Although the cremation rate continues to climb (10 percent in 1960, 24 percent in 1998, and projected 40 percent by 2010), earth burial of casketed remains continues to be the most common form of final disposition in the United States, accounting for about 65 percent of all dispositions. National cremation rates mask the wide variation among the states. Hawaii, Nevada, and Washington have cremation rates over 50 percent, while Mississippi, West Virginia, and Alabama have cremation rates of about 5 percent.

The two remaining forms of final disposition are rarely used. Medical and dental schools around the country accept body donations, or willed bodies, for use in research and training. After two years of use, the bodies are generally cremated and either returned to the family or buried in a group grave.

By 1993, about fifty people had opted for cryogenic suspension. Interest in cryogenics was piqued in 1964 when R. C. W. Ettinger published his book, The Prospect of Immortality. Ettinger defines cryogenic suspension as "specialized cold storage of clinically dead people. . .in hope of eventual rescue, revival, repair, and rejuvenation by future technology" (Kastenbaum, 1994–1995, p. 159). During an interview with the editor of the journal Omega, Ettinger reported the cost of a full-body cryogenic suspension at his Cryogenics Institute was $28,000, compared to $51,000–$60,000 for cryogenic suspension of just the head at other institutes.

Funeral and Memorial Practices - Ceremony To Mark The Death [next]

User Comments

The following comments are not guaranteed to be that of a trained medical professional. Please consult your physician for advice.

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or