You’re likely familiar with the Christian burial phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” While that phrase has been recited over graves for centuries, it may need changing in Washington state. With the green light given to the composting of human remains, “dust to dirt” may be a more appropriate way of putting it.
A new path for human remains
The Washington state law allowing the composting of human remains will take effect in May of 2020. It means that, in addition to cremation or burial, a body can now be composted naturally into soil.
Like all composting, it’s a simple and natural process. The body is covered in a natural material, like straw or wood chips. Over the course of several weeks, the body breaks down into soil. Families are free to visit the complex during this process. When the composting is finished, the soil is given to the family and they can do with it as they please.
Environmental friendly – and cost effective
While composting won’t be an option for everyone, it will certainly appeal to those who want a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly option for disposing of their remains at death.
For instance, there are no air quality concerns that can come with cremation, and composting doesn’t use up valuable tracks of land the way a cemetary can. In fact, the process actually “creates” land by adding more soil to the world.
And cost-wise, the woman who spearheaded the move to allow composting – Katrina Spade, CEO of Recompose – estimates that the approximate cost of composting (US$5,500) will be just below the cost of cremation, and far less than a burial.
Are we ready Canada?
The composting of human remains makes sense on many levels, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this practice spreading to other jurisdictions, including Canada. It may not be for everyone, but it’s hard to see a downside.
This CNN article and short video provide some more context to the adoption of human remains composting in Washington state.
Thanks for reading … Have a wonderful day,
It is that time of the year when media outlets release their “top” or “most popular” lists, like the Time 100.
I came across a rather interesting and topical list the other day called “The Most Obnoxious Celebrity Wills” by Ranker. This particular list features 24 celebrity Wills and I will excerpt some of the notable mentions here:
- Napoleon Bonaparte’s Will was first on the list. Apparently, his Will included a direction for his head to be shaved and for his hair to be divided amongst his friends.
- Harry Houdini asked his wife to hold an annual séance to contact his spirit.
- Philip Seymour Hoffman wanted his son to be raised in three different cities: New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
- Charles Dickens gave directions for a particular dress code at his funeral.
- Fred Baur, the person who designed the Pringles can, wanted to buried in a Pringles can.
Turns out testamentary freedom is whatever you want to make of it but the enforceability of provisions like these are another matter.
Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!
Over the past few decades, scientists have been sounding the alarm over climate change and the dangers posed to the environment as a result of a variety of human activity. This has led, over time, to the adoption of various practices meant to increase our sustainability and minimize our impact on the environment. Most people probably only consider their day-to-day lives when looking at how they might be more environmentally friendly. However, we might also want to think about the impact our death might have on the environment.
I recently came across this informative video from Vox which discusses the environmental costs of a traditional burial, along with alternatives such as cremation and other more uncommon forms of disposing of human remains:
Some of the negative impacts of burial?
- The use of cement, wood, and metal expended to construct burial plots and coffins;
- The use of space (approximately 32 square feet per person) which must be reserved for a burial plot (and which consequently can’t be used for any other reason); and
- The release of formalin, a toxic carcinogen, along with other untreated waste.
In addition to the environmental costs of burial, the video notes the actual monetary costs of burial, which greatly exceed the costs of cremation.
The video notes that cremation still comes with some costs to the environment, including the release of pollutants (including mercury) and the use of some resources such as natural gas and electricity (from heating the body). Overall, however, cremation appears to be a more environmentally friendly approach to disposing of remains. As a bonus, the video points out some interesting activities that can be done with ashes, such as placing them in fireworks (giving a whole new meaning to the expression ‘going out with a bang’).
For the most environmentally-conscious out there, the video also presents the options of natural burial where non-embalmed bodies are buried in either biodegradable containers or without any form of casket. The body is allowed to decompose naturally such that pollution and resource usage is minimized. More theoretical methods such as breaking down a body frozen in liquid nitrogen or dissolving human tissue in a mix of heated water and lye are also presented.
For anyone curious about the environmental impact of their death, the video is an informative six minute session.
Thanks for reading!
When a person dies, loved ones generally attend to the burial and memorial preparations without any thought as to who this responsibility falls upon and who has ultimate decision-making power. Where a dispute arises as to the how to say one’s final goodbyes, however, the courts are ready to provide an answer.
Courts have long held that the right to determine how a body is disposed of falls upon the estate trustee of the deceased’s estate. This right arises because the estate trustee is under a duty to ensure the deceased’s body is disposed of in a manner suitable to the estate left behind by the deceased. With this duty comes the corresponding right to possess the body for the purposes of burial. This right comes in priority of the right of spouses, children and other loved ones to decide how to dispose of the body.
For anyone who is in the process of preparing their wills, they hopefully give some thought and consideration as to the suitability of their chosen estate trustee. Ideally, they’ll ensure that their estate trustee is someone:
- likely to outlive the testator;
- willing to take on the task of administering an estate; and
- who will diligently bring all assets into the estate and attend to their distribution.
Testators may want to give some consideration for how the estate trustee will dispose of their body after death as well. This is particularly so as the disposition of one’s body is not something that one can validly provide for in a will (Williams v Williams (1882) 20 Ch D 659 (Eng Ch Div)). Hence, once deceased, testators are in the hands of the estate trustee, so to speak. Where a testator has any concerns that loved ones might fight over burial plans, then some further thought should be given to choosing an estate trustee who will act in accordance with the wishes of the testator.
Unfortunately, disputes over the burial of remains do come up. We’ve blogged on a few of these cases in the past, including the case of legendary soul singer, James Brown and the case of Leo Johnston, a slain RCPM officer in Alberta.
For anyone concerned about it, they may take some small amount of comfort in knowing that once in the ground, courts will be extremely cautious in disturbing a deceased’s (hopefully) final resting place (see, for example, Mason v Mason, 2017 NBQB 132).
Thanks for reading!
An estate trustee has the legal authority to arrange the place and manner of the burial or cremation of the deceased. The estate trustee also has a duty to see that the deceased is buried in a suitable manner and that no undue expense is incurred. Where a person dies without a will, and an administrator has not yet been appointed by the court, the deceased’s next of kin may direct the manner of burial or cremation. In some cases, the deceased may have made arrangements for a funeral and pre-paid for their own burial or cremation. There are certain statutory and common law consumer protections in regard to the procurement of funeral services.
Burial and cremation services are governed by the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, 2002. Pursuant to s.42(1), a purchaser of internment rights, defined in s. 1 as “the right to require or direct the interment of human remains in a lot”, may cancel the contract at any time within 30 days after the contract was made. The operator must fully refund all money received upon notice of cancellation. A cemetery operator will be unable to enforce a contract unless it meets the formal requirements set out in the regulations.
Contract law also provides certain protections to those purchasing funeral or burial services. In the recent case of Tsekhman v Spero, the Court held that contracts for funeral and interment services are contracts for “peace of mind”. A breach of contract, therefore, can result in damages for mental suffering. In this case, the Court found that a delay in fulfilling the contract for burial prejudiced the Plaintiffs’ ability to abide by their Jewish laws and customs and to honour their parents’ wishes. The court held damages for loss of peace of mind in a contract case such as this one should be modest.
Thank you for reading … enjoy the rest of your day!