Controversy arising over ‘liquid cremation’ method
by Kelli Wynn
3rd July, 2012 – The Miami Herald
Link to Original
DAYTON, Ohio — Some in the funeral business in Ohio are seeking state approval for a new and controversial technique for disposing of human bodies through chemical decomposition.
The technique, alkaline hydrolysis, involves placing a body inside a stainless-steel cylinder machine that is used to accelerate natural decomposition, shrinking years into hours. The process uses lye to break down corpses into liquid, proteins and dry bone residue. The liquefied remains are then discharged into a sewer system. It’s a process used commonly on livestock, but it has been only slowly accepted for handling human remains.
Joseph Wilson, owner of Bio-Response Solutions, an Indiana company that makes the AH machines, said the remains are environmentally safe and the liquid residue ends up being treated in a wastewater treatment plant. “The whole earth is a processing system that processes waste and recycles it back.”
The Catholic Church is opposed to the idea, and that opposition has prompted Ohio State Rep. Ron Maag, chairman of the government and elections committee, to remove language from House Bill 481 that would have made AH an acceptable form of disposition in Ohio. Maag, who is Catholic, said he felt uncomfortable about the process and spoke to a Catholic church leader.
“The process didn’t seem respectful to me and that’s when I contacted the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to get their opinion,” Maag said. “They objected to that type of disposal of the body.”
“(Catholic leaders) think dissolving the body this way is not showing respect for the body,” said the Rev. Earl Fernandes, dean and assistant professor of moral theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati. “We do believe that the body is going to be raised up in glory in the last day and the soul will be reunited with it. We don’t want people to think that the human body can just be disposed of like any other material.”
The Catholic Church dropped its opposition to cremation in the mid-1960s, but Fernandes said church policy still prefers burial.
Jeff Edwards of Edwards Funeral Home in Columbus was the first to perform alkaline hydrolysis on human bodies in Ohio after purchasing an AH machine in 2010. A low-temperature machine can cost approximately $150,000 and can handle two bodies a day, Wilson said. A high-temperature machine can cost about $200,000 and can handle four bodies a day. Edwards performed 19 dispositions before state regulators questioned if it was an acceptable form of final disposition. “He proved that our system worked,” said Wilson, who sold Edwards the AH machine.
Edwards filed a lawsuit in March 2011 against the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors after ODH quit issuing permits for AH body disposals. A judge ruled that ODH and the board had the authority to determine what is an acceptable form of disposition of a human body, as set forth in the Ohio Revised Code.
“I was so far ahead of the curve that it left the potential to cause a disruption in the volume of other funeral homes’ cremation,” Edwards said. “If I am the only one offering AH, that is a problem to (other funeral homes).”
If legislation regarding the use of AH does pass, Ohio would be the ninth state in the country to regard the process as an acceptable form of human disposition, according to Vanessa Niekamp, the state board’s executive director. Minnesota was the first state to pass legislation in 2006; it is also legal in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland and Oregon.