Jul 12

Disposal of Human Remains

In Brief—The composting of dead humans is an idea whose time has come. Whether it’s composting or other ecologically friendly ways of dealing with the human dead, the time has come to openly discuss the issue and put it into practice.


Dead is Dead—

It was a Fremen practice in Herbert’s “Dune.” Forensics experts study it. In some nations it is a tradition. The decomposition and disposal of dead humans.

The desert-dwelling Fremen of Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” the prize-winning series of science fiction novels, recycled the precious water content of their dead (the “Dune” film sucked, by the way). Forensic experts study the decomposition in nature of dead bodies to learn how to determine the approximate time of death. The bodies of the Tibetan dead are laid out on rocky platforms so the dead can be consumed by birds-of-prey. Indian Hindu dead are cremated on funeral pyres and their ashes committed to the Ganges River.

Euphemisms (Is it Avoidance?)—

Now, let’s take a look at just a few of the many euphemisms for the elements of death that are found in the western world, particularly America. These indicate senseless tradition, fear or a reluctance to deal with a taboo subject.

Passing on. Deceased. Succumbed. Out of time. Bought the farm. Checked out. Croaked. Kicked the bucket. Gave up the ghost. Pushing up daisies. Shuffled off the mortal coil. Flatlined. Crossed over. Cashed In. Gone to a better place. Eternal rest. Gone home. Bit the dust. Six feet under. Remains.

It may be time to face the inevitable. It may be time to recognize that life is a continuum from birth to death. We celebrate the arrival of a baby, but we avoid mentioning the fact that the newborn is on the path to an inevitable death.

Floating candles

What do we do with that dead body? Do we put it in a stylish coffin and bury it in the ground? Do we put it in a mausoleum? Do we cremate it? Do we commit it to the ocean? Well, the New York Times has at last addressed the possibility that society may be ready to give thought to how we dispose of that dead body in a beneficial way.

On April 13, 2015, the Times presented an article titled “A Project to Turn Corpses into Compost.” An entrepreneur, Katrina Spade, has proposed and is testing a method by which dead human bodies can be recycled into fertilizer. She’s not the first nor will she be the last. There are other acceptable solutions such as a green burial that have been used and can be used today. You can google the subject to find other ways of dealing with a dead body. In any case, click on the highlighted words or the link below to read the full New York Times article.


Composting human bodies certainly won’t solve the problem of climate change even though it will ease it a bit. Additionally, some individuals and groups are so wedded to tradition or simply squeamish that there will be hurdles to the solution, but it’s a sensible way to reduce our human footprint on Earth and solve the issue of the expanding need for space in which to warehouse the dead.

No doubt, science needs to examine when composting can be dangerous. For example, the danger has been shown by the disposing of mad cows. Generally, however, composting is a benign way to accomplish two goals: disposing of dead humans and providing ecological fertilizer to grow the plants that will help save humanity.

Think about this and confront any doubts you may have. From my perspective, this is one sensible approach to a subject that has been taboo for much too long. As I’ve said before, let’s not be held back by pointless tradition.


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  1. Well…..you certainly have shifted gears on this one, Mr. Bay!
    I won’t ask how this topic surfaced, but it is interesting.

    Birth is terminal. That fact becomes more obvious as we age. I have often pondered the practice of Western style internment and all the issues that it presents. Cost, resource usage, space, etc.
    My father’s death was the first time I really looked at the process and found it odd. My mother, in her grief, spent a ridiculous amount of money on a rose wood coffin for him that a day or two later would never be seen again. In fact, I’m not convinced that many of those high priced eternal resting places ever make it into the ground. Have you ever stayed behind after a funeral service to actually watch the dirt go back in the grave?

    I have ofter thought that a post hole would be far more efficient than horizontal graves. Standing like so many soldiers, vertical burials saves space and offer the family an opportunity to decide whether Uncle Harry goes in feet first, or head first……that “pull my finger” joke got pretty boring.
    As you say…..Dead is Dead. And obviously burials or any other method of dealing with a body is more for the living than for the deceased. To many, the religious aspect enters into the discussion as well, further complicating the notion of any change to the current way of dealing with the departed. No matter how efficient, practical, or environmentally sound, changing long standing practices may be a bit challenging.

    I’d be OK with being put out at the curb on trash day…..but that’s just me.

      • Don Bay on July 13, 2015 at 10:01

      I’ll drink to your last line. Levity aside, tradition and know-nothing religion are the main impediments to a sane policy regarding burial.

      You mention the beautiful rosewood coffin. I’ve read that many of the beautiful containers in which the body is buried are crushed by the backhoes that dug the hole. Some may be recycled for the next grieving family. In any case, it’s well past time to seriously discuss the composting idea.

      P.S. The funeral industry has enormous clout and will use all its power to preserve tradition. Note what I said to Jim.

  2. I like Dave’s last line. However done, the least costly in terms of resources, both private and public, is the best solution for me. I will be curious to see what others may say.

      • Don Bay on July 13, 2015 at 10:11

      You and Dave are voices for sanity and reality. As I pointed out, tradition is a big hurdle that must be overcome before humanity lets nature deal with the dead body.

      Face it, the dead body is just an empty shell since the brain has ceased functioning and there’s zero evidence for a soul. Let’s save the space and get some valuable use from what’s left. Honor the life that once inhabited the body—assuming that life was worth honoring—but turn the remnant over to nature.

      I’m curious what other readers have to say on the subject, too.

      P.S. The funeral industry, at a minimum, has enormous clout and can be expected to invest a fortune in preserving the status quo. Lets not look for rationality to take hold for a long time.

    • Donna on July 13, 2015 at 17:59

    another possibility is allowing your body to be used as a cadaver so that biology and medical students can increase their knowledge of the human body.

      • Don Bay on July 14, 2015 at 10:07

      Good point, Donna. It’s one alternative to the disposal of the body after death. There are over 2.5 million deaths per year in the U.S., but there are only roughly 170 institutions that train doctors (that figure includes 40 that grant degrees to osteopaths). Thus, there is a limited need for dead bodies. Still, a person can leave his/her body for use in an institution that trains doctors.

    • Susan Harris on July 14, 2015 at 06:38

    With you on this one. Just be advised that I don’t want to be cremated or buried immediately after passing. I’ve read somewhere that the body can still feel for a couple of days post mortim. Kind of like how a chicken can run around after having it’s head removed, or the body can still feel a limb after it’s removal. The soul still may hang around the body for a few days. I’ve advised my kids that I want to have candles, incense, and flowers around my body that will be moved out of doors and covered with a blanket ( if it’s cold outside).

      • Don Bay on July 14, 2015 at 10:34

      I have looked for information verifying your belief that a dead person can feel for up to two days after death. I have not found such information. The closest I have found is that the sense of hearing is the last sense to go, and even there—given that there is no way to question the dead—the sense lasts only seconds or a few minutes at most.

      The brain is the source of all we experience in life. Once death occurs the brain immediately begins to deteriorate. All senses stop and the body begins to decompose. Science has proven that once death occurs it is irreversible.

      There is zero evidence that the soul exists. Inasmuch as the brain begins to deteriorate as soon as death occurs, the soul, or essence of consciousness, goes with it. The soul is a religious concept that has no meaning in reality. We can’t grasp not existing in some form. Thus, soul is the answer that has been given. As has often been said, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

      Regardless of what survivors have been instructed to do, the dead person won’t be there to enforce it and will not know what has been done. As Dave has said, the survivors may decide to put the dead body out on the curb to be picked up with the trash. As I have said in the piece, “Dead is Dead.” Enjoy life as much as possible while you live.

  3. Fodder– errr fertilizer– for thought. I’ll be dying to know if it’s the last thing I do.

      • Don Bay on July 15, 2015 at 09:46

      Thanks for the humor and double-entendre. If it weren’t for you and Dave, I think this piece may be considered by many to be too morbid…or, as I say, too realistic.

    • Susan Harris on July 15, 2015 at 04:18

    I wrote I had read somewhere, didn’t write about what I believe. Was it you who told me about the book that described children’s death experiences or near death ,or die and come back ?Have you not had an experience of being out of your body? Tell me who is reading these words , who are you ,and where are you?Are all of those people who have died and come back to live and tell about it making it up? Maybe, just maybe you are much more than a thinking brain , beating heart and cells etc etc. How can you be certain of anything? Again, who are you? Just because you have beliefs about what you’ve understood to be the truth, just because scientists concur this or that is real or true doesn’t mean necessarily it is ..or does it? Have scientific beliefs ever changed? Maybe ,just maybe whoever you think you are, is a series of thought and agreement. I just question everything .If everyone has their own and very different reality, how can one know that their reality and beliefs are the real deal?
    You claim to know an awful lot and you love to debate. Do you win by being certain ? What do you think you win? Does it serve you and others?
    Talk to us about Seth and your beliefs around that time. That was so much fun.
    Having an experience that we are all the same and we can never die ..what gets better than that? That’s the party I choose. What does it mean to be gifted?
    Some people have the gift of gab, some the gift of love.
    Just saw the wonderful documentary about Amy Winehouse. Have you seen it? Has anyone on this blog seen it? She died. If there are jazz musicians and artists playing music somewhere beyond, that’s where I want to go. Why is I capitalized in the middle of a sentence and you isn’t?

      • Susan Harris on July 15, 2015 at 04:23

      Did you or anyone see the beautiful Japanese film entitled ,The Travel Agent?
      It has to do with the preparation for moving on. I think you can find it on Netflix.

        • Don Bay on July 15, 2015 at 09:43

        No, I haven’t seen “The Travel Agent.” I can’t speak for others. I have scanned the Internet and found only “Departures,” a Japanese film about preparing the dead for burial. I read the storyline which basically dealt with taboo attitudes in Japan. This may or may not be the film you advise readers to view. My only advice is to realize that all films are stories that have been edited. In any case, thanks for the suggestion.

      • Don Bay on July 15, 2015 at 10:35

      Whew! By analogy, this comment is like a stew: lots of stuff mixed together.

      Taking this ingredient-by-ingredient, scientific research has looked at near-death-experiences (NDE) and found that they are evidence only of the ability of the brain to create sense out of the experience…but the individual does not actually die. S/he experiences the feelings of approaching death, but does not cross the final threshold. The beauty of science is that it corrects previous mistakes and always seeks further evidence. Religion simply says “Believe! This is the way it is and will always be.” Humans will believe what they want to believe regardless of whether it is right or wrong. Science changes according to the evidence. What was once shown by the evidence available at that time now takes into account evidence that has appeared since.

      You have raised an old philosophical issue: prove that you exist. As of now, I am willing to say that all sane people seem to share the same reality.

      Regarding Seth, Jane Roberts was slick and raised issues that appeared interesting and plausible to me forty years ago. They do not appear plausible to me today. I am less gullible today than I was forty years ago. As I say, the one unchanging thing in the universe is change. Made for fascinating discussions then though.

      Fortunately, all of us are different. Were it otherwise, we would live in a boring world.

      Since Amy Winehouse is dead and I know little about her, I won’t address that issue. The music she and other dead musicians played is mostly still available on recordings. There is no evidence that they are now playing in the great hereafter, but whatever helps you sleep better is good. Believe it, but don’t expect others to think as you do.

      I may have missed something but then I’m not perfect and have loads yet to learn. Comes with being human.

        • Susan Harris on July 15, 2015 at 18:07

        Oops yes Departures! Such an amazing film! Lots to talk about after seeing this film!

          • Don Bay on July 18, 2015 at 15:25

          Since the synopsis of the film “Departures” doesn’t show the film to be germane to this blog piece, there is no purpose in exchanging views on what is undoubtedly a good film. I encourage you to solicit a discussion on the film through other channels. Good luck.

    • Susan Harris on July 17, 2015 at 20:19

    The comments just ended on this discussion? Has anyone seen the film Departures? I don’t see my last comment. Did it not get posted and replied to?

      • Don Bay on July 18, 2015 at 15:43

      My previous reply explains why it is not appropriate to discuss the film in this forum. Unfortunately, I departed from my usual practice of responding fairly quickly. For this I apologize. In the future I will attempt to respond more quickly, but there’s never a guarantee. Mea culpa. I hope you will stick with my meanderings in subject matter and that you will still comment on the offerings when the urge strikes you.

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