States consider: Is it legal to dissolve bodies?
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Hal Shimp didn't want a traditional send-off after death. He didn't want a big, somber service, and he certainly didn't want to be buried.
When the 91-year-old World War II veteran died in February after a cancer battle, his body tissue was dissolved using heat and lye, turning it into a liquid that could be poured down a drain and a dry bone residue given to relatives, who plan to scatter it when they plant a tree in his honor.
His family in Ohio saw it as a more environmentally friendly option than cremation and a fitting choice for a progressive-thinking guy who used to gather aluminum cans and cardboard for recycling.
"We thought this matched the kind of gentle soul that Hal was," said his daughter-in-law, Cathy Bregar.
Ohio is the only state where the method, called alkaline hydrolysis, has been used in the funeral industry, but others are increasingly allowing for it, spurred by a push from interested crematories and equipment manufacturers or by a desire to have regulations ready if the process comes to their regions.
Proponents say it has lower operating costs and is greener than traditional cremation because it does not cause the emissions that incineration does, such as carbon dioxide and mercury from dental fillings. But skeptics question the social implications of sending someone's remains down the drain, and whether it's safe for the environment and public health.
A half-dozen states in recent years have opened the door for it, several by removing references to flame or direct heat from their definitions of cremation.
Changes taking effect this year will allow alkaline hydrolysis in Kansas, Maryland and Colorado, where the governor signed a bill into law April 6. It was already legal in Florida, Maine, Minnesota and Oregon. New York and California also are considering allowing it.
The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and the University of Florida use it for human cadavers, and it's been used for two decades on animal carcasses.
Also known as resomation, the method uses lye — a type of corrosive chemical used to make soaps and cleaners — in combination with heat and sometimes extra pressure in a large metal cylinder. It breaks down a body into two main substances: a coffee-colored liquid of nutrients, sugars and protein parts that is discarded and a dry bone residue that can be given to relatives or buried, much like a cremation.
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