Cremation After Death

The practice and culture of cremation has not only significantly been impacted by religious and traditional beliefs, but has also transitioned and evolved since ancient times. In ancient times, cremation was often used as a means of honoring individuals who fought for their people and displayed an immense amount of bravery on the battlefield, as well as, those who held high positions within ancient governments. In certain religions such as Hinduism, who practice cremation because of their belief in reincarnation, the symbolic pair of fire and water is fundamental in the transformation of the dead to further life which has an imperative role in the process of cremation. [1] Eventually, the practice of cremation began to diminish because of prevailing religious beliefs. Islam, Catholicism, Judaism, and other religions do not condone the act of cremation due to the belief of burying the body of the deceased in order to prove their faith in a more dignified and honorable way. Even though there are many differences in cultural practices, there is still the commonality of the act of respecting and remembering loved one’s after they have passed away. However, it was during the nineteenth century that the practice of cremation experienced a resurgence which is believed to be a result of over-crowded cities, and less burial space for the deceased.  There are a number of reasons why cremation appealed to the European societies in the nineteenth century. These include the hygiene factor, the aesthetics of cremation, and the invention of the technique to cremate human bodies in a more effective way. [2] Previously cremation was executed by using open fire and wood and eventually transitioned to being conducted in closed heat-resistant chambers.

Modern cremations started to be introduced in Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century; the first modern cremation in Sweden took place in 1887.[2] Cremation practices may be used for a number of reasons. Some cultures view fire as a purifying agent and see the practice as the most respectful way to dispose of those who have died. Whereas other societies may believe cremation to light the way into the afterlife, or to prevent the spirit of the deceased from returning to the world of the living. [3] While cremation isn’t accepted by all, those who believe in this practice emphasize how all humans have the right to die as they please as “the right to personal autonomy does not end when individual human beings die.” [4] Cremation became an appropriate vehicle for expressing the ephemerality of bodily life and the eternity of spiritual life.15 With the remains after cremation, new traditions have emerged as individuals invented ways of placing their loved one’s remains in natural environments or places where the survivors acknowledged that their loved one who has passed spent memorable times. Another practice individuals have chosen is turning their loved one’s ashes into stones or gems to make meaningful and more personal jewelry to always remember their loved ones by.

Cremation consists of burning a deceased human body at high temperatures, which reduces it to basic chemical compounds. [9] This process produces ash that can be stored, buried, or otherwise dispersed. When deciding how to deal with a deceased individual, fifty percent of Americans will choose cremation over burial.[6] Many people understand that cremation involves the reduction of one’s bodily structure into ashes, but fail to understand the complex process that is required in order to successfully cremate a body. Formally, cremation is the act of burning a dead body until the only remaining parts are calcified bones, which are then pulverized into ashes.[7]Cremation occurs at an extremely high temperatures, ranging from 1400 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.[8] The scientific explanation behind this process illustrates that immense heat is needed to reduce a body to its basic components, which primarily consist of dried bone fragments. The actual incineration requires several steps before it is completed. First, a cremation chamber must be preheated, with the body transferred through a mechanized door to avoid heat loss. [8] Following this, the body is exposed to an abundance of flames generated by a furnace. The heat from the fire is used to burn the skin and hair, char muscles, vaporize soft tissues, and calcify bones, making them easy to disintegrate into ashes. The bodies must remain in caskets throughout the entire cremation, in order to prevent technicians from exposure to infectious diseases.[10]  Despite what most may think, cremated bodies typically do not produce a putrid smell, because emissions are processed to destroy smoke from the chamber and vaporize any gases that would contribute to an unwanted smell. Occasionally, the cremation technician has to manually crush partially cremated remains, until they are fragmented enough to be collected in a tray for cooling.[8]

10] Above is a photograph of calcified bones that have undergone the cremation process. These bones will subsequently be crushed by a cremation technician into finer pieces for storage purposes.

The entire process of cremation is estimated to take approximately one to three hours, with each body producing three to seven pounds of ashes, which are a pasty white color[8] There are a wide variety of factors that influence the duration of the cremation process, which can either shorten or elongate its completion. These factors include weight of the body, percentage of body fat in the body, temperature of the cremation chamber, and quality of cremation equipment used.[10] Luckily, modern technologies and updated research has allowed the cremation process to recover a significantly large portion of the human body than in years past.[10] A large contributor to this advancement is the expectation that error is catastrophic and unforgivable during cremation. Ashes from cremation can be used for scientific research; some facilities even offer cremation for free, in exchange for the ability to conduct medical research on the body. [11] Many organizations have aimed to use cremation to benefit the greater good, specializing in areas such as cardiovascular, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s research.

Over time, the number of cremations in the United States has been steadily rising to the point where currently, between one-quarter and one-third of all corpses are cremated.By 2022, the US is projected to reach 57.8% in cremation rates.[13]

 

[12]“2018 Annual Statistics Report.” Cremation Association of North America.

As cremation is becoming increasingly more popular, the practice has caught the attention of theologists and members of religious communities. Contemporary believers are beginning to inquire about the reasons behind why cremation rates have risen, and what factors contribute to the debate that exists between cremation and traditional burial procedures. There is a lack of widespread discussion on cremation ethics which has had implications for those whom are attempting to justify the practice. However there is evidence that supports that the increase in cremation practices are due to rationales such as expense, environmental concerns, and ease of arrangement, among many others. [13]

There is an ongoing debate regarding the ethics of cremation versus traditional burial procedures, as the process becomes more prevalent. A study was conducted to investigate the opinion of individuals regarding the cremation-burial dilemma. 66% of individuals gave an affirmative answer to agreeing with cremation, and 33% declared their opposition. Those who agreed with the cremation procedure agreed for the following reasons: sanitary considerations (overcrowding of cemeteries),  the procedure is more convenient for the offspring, fear of post mortem decay,  part of the body would be near the loved ones, financial considerations.  Those who opposed stated that they were against cremation for the following reasons the Church’s blaming of cremation (including denial of religious service), tradition (customs) must be respected, other religious considerations (the fear that there would be no possibility of resurrection on Judgment Day). The conducted studied showed that cremation has its supporters through the two-thirds of respondents that agreed with the process. Motivational analysis of the choice for cremation showed its secular, socio-economic and psychological substrate, while its refusal is based on grounds of religious beliefs and a willingness to abide by the tradition. [14] These findings show that there many arguments for and against cremation, but this situation is not necessarily an ethical conflict of interest. As long as those who are deceased and/or the family get to make their own choice on the process, it is ethical for them to be able to make their choice on the debate of burial versus cremation.

Gabrielle Geiger, Alise Tyndall, and Maddie Srochi

[1] Oestigaard, Terie. “Cremations in Culture and Cosmology.” The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial. : Oxford University Press, August 01, 2013. Oxford Handbooks Online.

[2] Back Danielsson, Ing-Marie. “Presenting the Past: On Archaeologists and Their Influence on Modern Burial Practices.” Mortality, vol. 16, no. 2, May 2011, pp. 98-112. EBSOhost, doi:10.1080/13576275.2011.560452.

[3] “Cremation.” Cremation- New World Encyclopedia, www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Cremation.

[4] Juss, Satvinder Singh. “Sikh Cremations and the Re-Imagining of the Clash of Cultures.” Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 3, 2013, pp. 614-615 www.jstor.org/stable/24518075.

[5] “Cremation Growth Trends: Speed and Velocity.” Industry Statistical Information – Cremation Association of North America (CANA). Accessed April 08, 2019. https://www.cremationassociation.org/page/IndustryStatistics.

[6] Lovejoy, Bess. “Cremation Is on the Rise, but Where to Put the Ashes?” Time. June 13, 2013. Accessed April 08, 2019. http://ideas.time.com/2013/06/13/cremation-is-on-the-rise-but-where-to-put-the-ashes/.

[7] Kim, Michelle. “How Cremation Works.” HowStuffWorks Science. November 15, 2018. Accessed April 08, 2019. https://science.howstuffworks.com/cremation.htm.

[8] “How Is A Body Cremated?” Cremation Resource. January 2019. Accessed April 08, 2019. https://www.cremationresource.org/cremation/how-is-a-body-cremated.html.

[9] Douglas J. Davies and Lewis H. Mates, eds., Encyclopedia of Cremation (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2005) 131. The Encyclopedia continues its description of the process of cremation, noting, “The remaining substance, the cremains, may be processed further by mechanically breaking the larger particles down, producing a consistent mixture of grain and powder, to be scattered or stored in an urn” (ibid.)

[10] Chesler, Caren. “Exactly What Happens When You Get Cremated.” Popular Mechanics. April 13, 2018. Accessed April 08, 2019. https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/health/a18923323/cremation/.

[11] Kirchheimer, Sid. “Donating Your Body to Science, Research – Free Cremation, Save a Buck.” AARP. March 28, 2012. Accessed April 08, 2019. https://www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-03-2012/donating-your-body-to-science.html.

[12] “2018 Annual Statistics Report.” Digital image. Cremation Association of North America. Accessed April 7, 2019. https://www.cremationassociation.org/page/IndustryStatistics.

[13] Jones, David W. 2010. “TO BURY OR BURN? TOWARD AN ETHIC OF CREMATION.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 53 (2) (06): 335-347. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/1001349961?accountid=14244.

[14] Morar, Silviu, Elena Topîrcean, and Ioana Peteanu. “The Cremation-burial Dilemma: Opinions of Future Health Professionals.” Romanian Journal of Legal Medicine 25, no. 3 (2017): 303-08. doi:10.4323/rjlm.2017.303.

15 Davies, Douglas. “Death and Dying.” Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, www.deathreference.com/Ce-Da/Cremation.html#ixzz5ijyqhpBA.

 

18 Comments

  1. Your post touched on the environmental effects of cremation briefly, however I would like to highlight that the natural gases used during cremations release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. Despite this, would burial of human remains be more harmful to the living? Additionally, are there “advanced directives” for the funeral process or is this scene for the emotions of the close loved ones?

  2. Do you think this rise in concern for cremation will lead to an increase in “green” burials (where the body is buried naturally to decompose and grow into something else)? If so, why? Would there be any ethical concerns that could arise from green burials? I liked how the posted talked about potential environmental concerns, but it would be interesting to learn more about how damaging cremation is to the environment.

  3. It is interesting to compare and contrast the different religious viewpoints towards the idea of cremation—how some view it as purification, while others view it as heinous and disrespectful. You mention the benefits that cremation has to offer in the medical world. How exactly is this done? The bodies are literally in ashes—how does this help research in bodily and psychological diseases? Does it make a significant contribution towards treatment/curing or just in understanding the effect after death?

  4. Incorporating the idea that each human and individual has their right to choose how they are treated after death is an important argument as well as ethical factor to consider. The emergence of cremation practices beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century may have been seen as absurd or radical as it does not follow the traditional funeral and burial practices. As time, technology, society, and individuals have progressed, the practice of cremation has become increasingly less taboo as nearly half of the population would prefer to be cremated instead of buried. This post could be related to my research as cremation is a popular practice when dealing with unidentified bodies and remains in the United States. Many unidentified bodies will be inspected, studied, and then cremated and stored in a facility in case the family members of the deceased were able to locate their remains. Overall I thought this post was very informative and well written, and I was able to learn about the process and procedures associated with cremation practices.

  5. It’s interesting to read how cremation has gone from something of great honor, to something done out of convenience, and back to something significant. I also think the portion that described how ashes are used in scientific research is interesting. I would love to see more about how that is done and the ethics behind it. Wouldn’t researchers benefit more from studying a dead body? and how would studying ashes be different or better?

  6. This post was very informative and was interesting to read about how cremation was something of honor in the ancient times. I also think that reading about how the cremation process takes place was interesting. There are many benefits to cremation that I did not originally know about. I liked how the post talked about how new traditions were emerging but do you believe that since new traditions are emerging, such as placing the remains in natural environments or in coral reefs, that cremations will become less common than they are now?

  7. I have personally always wanted to be cremated after death but I had never actually thought about the process of history, I had always just assumed the body was burned and that was that. It is really cool to see the historical and religious reasons behind cremation and how the ashes are something that can be turned into jewelry and other things. I have heard about burying the ashes and growing a tree from them but having them turned into something beautiful that you can wear really intrigues me. I also had no idea about research done on cremated bodies. How much information has been gathered from studying ashes? It seems like studying the bodies itself would be more beneficial. The post also discusses how cremation turns bodies into basic chemical compounds. How different are the compounds from one individual’s ashes to another individual’s ashes if we are all human?

  8. I learned a lot from this because I did not how elaborate the cremation is. Cremating body is a really complicated process. Cremation is more popular now is because of the urbanization in the modern world. China has limited land for burying the body, therefore, cremation is much cheaper. Chinese see burying the body as an honor and superior to cremation because buying land for grave requires a lot of money and also shows devotion to the deceased. In China, there is a festival for grieving called Tomb-Sweeping Day (Qingming Festival). People burn a lot of fake money, food, tools, and houses to the deceased to shows respect and care for the deceased. This would be harder for the family to do the tradition if the deceased is cremated.

  9. As a Hindu, this topic is very close to me as all my family members have been cremated when they passed. I believe a major part of Hindu culture following cremation is to scatter the ashes in a river—preferably a holy river like the Ganges. Before this class, I did not know that you could do so much with the ashes from cremation. For example, I was shocked that you could transform ashes into stones and gems to make jewelry. I’m interested to see how much more we can do with the ashes as time goes on.

    The process of cremation is very expensive; I’m curious to know if there are any changes that could be made to the process to reduce the cost? Do you think it’s solely a money-making business? Are they ripping society off?

    Overall, I enjoyed reading about the process of cremation. Before this class, I knew cremation involved turning the body into ashes; however, I was unaware of the exact process behind it. It takes many more steps than I would have thought.

  10. Growing up, I never had a close family member die. Recently my neighbor was cremated and I did not know the process or what people would do with the ashes afterwards. It is a complicated process, but the worth of the ashes as a memory means a lot. Transforming these ashes into diamonds, bullets, and other stuff makes me wonder what new ideas people are coming up with for the ashes. Your post was very informative and we didn’t go over the history so incorporating it into your post was great.

  11. Kenzie Chasteen

    April 24, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    Gabrielle, Alise, and Maddie,
    Thank you for an informative post. It is interesting to understand the processes and arguments surrounding cremation. Personally, though to process seems heated, I have always liked the idea of crematory ashes being dispersed in a place special to my rather than being buried in the ground. I thought it was interesting that due to land space, cremation is largely preferred in Europe. Your post along with class discussion have brought me to thinking about green burials and what rights does an individual really have after they die? How should their burials effect or impact others? Who decides these things? What happens in someone is buried and needs to be moved due to land allocation? All of these questions have stemmed from our readings, class and your post. Thank you for a cohesive and well articulated post.

  12. The process of cremation is so interesting, and the progression of how the body is handle before and after cremation was very informative. When I die I always wanted my body to be cremated to save both space and money, however, looking at these practices I find that although it is a better alternative to having “traditional” burial, the body that has the potential to be radially disrespected during the process. There are many cases of the mishandling of bodies purely because people working In the death business had no care for it after it left the hands of the family. Based on previous knowledge and the information in the post, I question how many people don’t know that there are options to dispose of a body outside of a burial or cremation? If the practice is so ethically challenged why isn’t there more widespread legislation to approve other forms of disposing of a body or other businesses taking advantage of this conflict to possibly develop and implement more options for post-death? I’m interested in seeing how cremation as a practice may change as other forms of burial begin popping up.

  13. I found the post very informative because cremation has been a controversial topic in my household. I never considered cremation because of my religious beliefs, but this article shines a new on the light on the practice. The post touches on the benefits of cremation such as cutting expenses and easing funeral arrangements. Also, your post mentions the new tradition of turning loved one’s ashes into jewelry. Getting ashes turned into jewelry is definitely a unique idea, yet it seems expensive; what is the average cost of this practice?

  14. Great article! I liked the fact that you pulled in religion when you discussed the tradition and impact of a cremation. With these difference in religious beliefs dictating a lot about how people feel about cremation, I wonder if you found any information related to difference in cremation rates between genders? I feel like this would be an interesting correlation to look into because, in the previous article I read about gender differences in the grieving process, there was a significant difference in the grieving process among men and women. Cremation is a very interesting topic and I think you guys did a great job addressing the different perspectives.

  15. I personally never thought of cremation as a respectful practice to the dead, but this post showed me otherwise. When I was younger, I was completely shocked by the process of cremation because it seemed so unethical to burn a body to the point of it becoming ashes. I had always imagined cremation producing a small bowl of grey dust, but it turns out that bodies usually produce three to seven pounds of ashes that are a pasty white color rather than a grey. This post briefly brings up that cremation is more hygienic than other burial procedures. Why exactly is cremation more hygienic? Also, doesn’t cremation produce harmful greenhouse gases that can harm the environment? Since the cremation rate is estimated to increase to 57% by 2020, it will be imperative to consider the negative environmental effects of cremation. The process of resomation (water cremation) is a process that is more environmentally friendly but is very expensive and therefore not an option for many Americans. Will resomation become less expensive in the future? Nonetheless, the most important point brought up in his post is that the deceased person/and or their loved ones ultimately get to choose what happens to the body, and that is a right that should not be taken away.

  16. I never realized that there was such a long history to cremation, but I guess it is not surprising. I wonder how death culture was different back when it was first implemented. It would be really interesting to learn about the way that the practice has changed over time in response to technological adaptations and controversy over its religious questionability.

  17. I chose your posting because I wanted to learn more about the cremation process and the stigmas that may be associated with it. I thought it was interesting that its popularity has decreased because of religious reasons. Islam, Catholicism, and Judaism are just a few of the religions that deter people from choosing cremation when they die. I also did not really know how the cremation process worked nor that it actually has evolved over the years. Prior to it being conducted in closed heat-resistant chambers, open fires and wood were actually used. One statistic that I found particularly interesting was that about fifty percent of Americans actually choose cremation over burial. I did not realize cremation was that popular in America. Although I was aware that it was quite prevalent, I did not realize that so many Americans chose to participate in this practice. Another aspect of the cremation process which I did not know previously was that there are people who crush the bones that did not decompose all the way because of the high temperatures. I also thought it was interesting reading about the debate regarding the ethics of cremation when compared to burial. I thought your posting was very detailed and touched upon a variety of points that I would have never thought of when considering the topic of cremation. Good job!

  18. The introduction of history and detailed explanation of cremation process is useful and informative. But besides cremation and burial, there are more practices dealing with the dead body, such as body farm for scientific research, Necrobiome, Resomation, and Promession. How will the comparison be made among these practices and cremation? Will they be more function / environmental – friendly in some way? If not, what other choices are provided?

Leave a Reply

© 2019 Death & Dying III

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑