Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, May 9, 2008

Alkaline Hydrolysis -- A Better Way of Body Disposition?

Dissolve_deadCremation and burial may be so yesterday if alkaline hydrolysis becomes popular.  Using this process, lye is used to dissolve the body into a brown syrup which can then be poured down the drain.

Here are some excerpts from Norma Love, New idea in mortuary science: Dissolving bodies with lye, AP, May 8, 2008:

The process * * * was developed in this country 16 years ago to get rid of animal carcasses. It uses lye, 300-degree heat and 60 pounds of pressure per square inch to destroy bodies in big stainless-steel cylinders that are similar to pressure cookers.

No funeral homes in the U.S. — or anywhere else in the world, as far as the equipment manufacturer knows — offer it. In fact, only two U.S. medical centers use it on human bodies, and only on cadavers donated for research.

But because of its environmental advantages, some in the funeral industry say it could someday rival burial and cremation. * * *

Getting the public to accept a process that strikes some as ghastly may be the biggest challenge. Psychopaths and dictators have used acid or lye to torture or erase their victims, and legislation to make alkaline hydrolysis available to the public in New York state was branded "Hannibal Lecter's bill" in a play on the sponsor's name — Sen. Kemp Hannon — and the movie character's sadism.

Alkaline hydrolysis is legal in Minnesota and in New Hampshire, where a Manchester funeral director is pushing to offer it. But he has yet to line up the necessary regulatory approvals, and some New Hampshire lawmakers want to repeal the little-noticed 2006 state law legalizing it. * * *

In addition to the liquid, the process leaves a dry bone residue similar in appearance and volume to cremated remains. It could be returned to the family in an urn or buried in a cemetery.

The coffee-colored liquid has the consistency of motor oil and a strong ammonia smell. But proponents say it is sterile and can, in most cases, be safely poured down the drain, provided the operation has the necessary permits.

Alkaline hydrolysis doesn't take up as much space in cemeteries as burial. And the process could ease concerns about crematorium emissions, including carbon dioxide as well as mercury from silver dental fillings.


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Alkaline hydrolysis is no longer legal in New Hampshire for the disposal of human remains. See NH senate bill 332 (April 16, 2008), http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2008/SB0332.html.

Posted by: RR | Sep 16, 2008 7:43:41 AM

CycledLife, www.CycledLife.com, has a patent pending, low-temperature system that sales for $128,000. The proces is called a CycledBurial(TM)

Posted by: Ed Gazvoda | Jul 22, 2010 2:03:20 PM

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