Embalming, in modern times, is the art and science of temporarily preserving a body to be suitable for public display at a funeral. Many choose this option to extend the time between the death and the funeral so that family and friends can gather together for the funeral. However, it is not required, (except in cases of transporting the body cross-state).
Here you can read reasons for and against embalming and decide for yourself what is best for you or a loved one when planning a funeral.
The Pros of Embalming
The three goals of embalming are as follows: preservation, presentation and sanitation.
- Embalming preserves the body.
The process of embalming increases the time between the death and burial to 2 weeks or more. Without embalming, the deceased must be buried or cremated within a few short days. Most deaths are sudden and the extra time can be very useful when family does not live close.
- A More Life-like Presentation
The goal of embalming is to make the body appear relaxed and natural as possible. The process adds color back to the body and fills out areas that may dehydrate otherwise. Seeing the deceased as close to life as possible often helps loved ones to say goodbye. Some funeral homes require embalming for open casket. However, state and federal law does not mandate embalming except in the cases of transportation across state lines.
- Embalming Is More Sanitary
Embalming helps keep public safe from any diseases or pathogens that may be in the body. During the process of embalming, the blood is replaced with embalming fluid which helps prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Some funeral homes require embalming when a public visitation or viewing is held, especially with an open casket. In the Mortuary Management article Prejudiced Against Embalming?, Ron Hast explains that embalming is not necessarily needed to protect the public health during a visitation and burial.
The Cons of Embalming
The main con of embalming is the extremely toxic fluids used. During the Civil War, they simply mixed arsenic with water to preserve the body for transportation. Today’s embalming fluid is a mixture of formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol and other solvents.
- A Dangerous Job
Formaldehyde has been identified as a cancer-causing agent. Embalmers must wear full body coverings and may also wear a respirator when working with embalming fluids. As long as the embalmer takes all recommended precautions, the danger is limited.
- Environmentally Toxic
As the body breaks down, the chemicals used in embalming are released. These chemicals can enter into the soil and could possibly filter into water sources consumed by humans. Embalming fluids may not be considered an environmental issue when the remains are housed in a sealed casket and burial vault. An alternative is to have the body cremated, which will also destroy the chemicals during the process.
- Extra Funeral Cost
Embalming adds a funeral cost that could be considered unnecessary. Legally, you are not required to embalm the body, except when transporting the body over state lines.
There are many valid pros and cons for the embalming process. However, the decision is up to you and your family to choose the option that is right for you.
If you have any questions about the legal requirements related to embalming, be sure and visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Industry Practices Trade Regulation Rule.