Green Funerals » Embalming options

Modern crematoriumSimple timber urn

Welcome to the most controversial aspect of green funerals. To begin here is a little context: Embalming is believed to have been first practiced in the Netherlands in the 17th century but is now illegal there (except for the royal family or bodies to be exported). Embalming is extremely rare in Japan (although not illegal) - it's just not the cultural norm. There are over 220 natural burial grounds in the UK where embalming is not permitted.
These examples tell us that the practice is not absolutely necessary. So why do we do it? It became popular in the American civil war so bodies could be returned to their families (transportation was slower than it is now, and there was no refrigeration) for a dignified send off. In New Zealand it evolved as the 'normal thing to do' mainly because there is a high percentage of viewing in this country, and it gives funeral directors peace of mind. Politely put, it removes the likelihood of unfortunate events (and odours) so the funeral director can do their job with confidence in a professional manor.
The bottom line is - it's your choice (as long as that choice is appropriate for the circumstances). If the family is OK with a funeral soon after death, refrigeration is usually enough (supplemented with ice packs for viewing at home etc). If the family wants to wait a couple of weeks for Uncle Sven to come home from Sweden, they would have little choice but to embalm. But it doesnt end there. There are now natural embalming options. One New Zealand firm makes fluid that will embalm a body with the toxicity of half a teaspoon of salt. One funeral home in Whakatane tried it and found it so good they changed over completely to this product. The mainstream suppliers are also producing an 'eco' version of their products which are available industry wide. Dont expect a conversation with your funeral director about all this... apart from a couple of natural funeral companies, embalming options will not be offered - you will need to assert your opinion if you want to vary from your funeral directors 'standard practice'.