Manitoba will soon end consultation on Bereavement Legislation, i.e. laws that govern cemeteries, the funeral industry, and the disposal of human remains. A final workshop will be held October 10th. Questionnaire responses or briefs are due by October 18th. Click here for questionnaire.
Later, from October 26 to November 3, 2019, the Unitarian Church is holding a series of events on the end of life called Dialogue on Death. Events are free and open to the public. For information and registration go to https://uuwinnipeg.mb.ca/.
At 82, I’m thinking more about death preparation. My to do list includes digitizing family photos and letters, uploading papers to a research site, and getting rid of more junk to spare my family the job (called “death cleaning” by the Swedes). I have long had a will but will take another look to see what needs updating. It might need a clause on what to do with my corpse.
With thoughts like these, I submitted comments to the bereavement consultation.
I wrote from the perspective of a humanistic ethic that is embedded in a larger earth ethic that respects the interdependent web of life and existence of which we are a part. Practically this means lightening negative impacts and enhancing beneficial impacts on nature, people, and society – present and future.
This means avoiding harms often associated with body disposal, such as locking up resources in caskets, embalming and entombment, and a single-use cemetery plot. It also means avoiding water and air pollution and health hazards from embalming and cremation.
It also means seeking to make my death a continuation of my effort in life to make beneficial contributions to nature, people and society, e.g. by giving my property to people and causes I care about. I’ll donate my body for medical uses (if it has any at my age), but otherwise, what’s left can be composted and the metal parts I contain recycled.
Regulations should protect the public interest in health, environmental protection, fulfillment of legitimate contractual expectations and professional services, and respectful treatment of human remains in recognition of their commemorative, environmental and social roles.
Need for an Evidentiary base, a role for the Clean Environment Commission
Protection of health and the environment should be evidence-based. It is therefore incumbent on the Province to gather evidence on health and environmental impacts of handling and treating dead bodies in various ways under consideration. This might be a task for Manitoba’s Clean Environment Commission to gather and evaluate the evidence on potential hazards and make recommendations on areas requiring licensing and regulation to protect the environment and health.
Composting Human Remains (also called “natural organic reduction” or “recomposition”)
I also recommended the addition of composting of human remains to the list of permitted methods of body disposal. This “recomposition” alternative is derived from the practice of farm animal composting. It is ecologically beneficial, like a green burial, but it accelerates the decomposition process from decades to weeks, thus avoiding the need for a protected burial plot. In this respect it is akin to cremation, but without loss of organic matter and production of greenhouse gases and other emissions that cremation entails. Although this adaptation of composting methods has not yet occurred in Manitoba, the current regulatory review should make provision for it to enable the creation of a facility in the next few years.
For further information, see https://www.recompose.life/ or this Ted talk by Katrina Spade (https://www.ted.com/talks/katrina_spade_when_i_die_recompose_me).