The dead get no respect

Traditional burials in America are rife with expensive and archaic practices that fail to honor the dead with the respect they deserve.

The typical funeral treats the dead like animals at a butcher shop. First, they are stripped of their vital organs and blood, and then put on display to appease their survivors.

The dead are denied any natural process of decomposition and subjected to years of preservation in a lonely box beneath the earth. The typical burial, consisting of a coffin, a memorial and mortician services, needs to be re-examined.

America may be known as the land of the free, but even in death Americans are charged exceptionally large fees for funeral expenses.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average funeral in America cost $6,500 in 2004. The estimate includes the casket and outer burial plot, but not cemetery fees, which can cost thousands more.

This number is incredibly high for an inevitable occasion. After a lifetime of working to pay taxes and bills, couldn’t death just be a freebie?

The high price of American funerals undermines memorials meant to honor a passed life.

The traditional process of preserving a body for mourners is tasteless, vile and disturbing. Morticians open the chest cavity to remove all the vital organs that once gave the corpse its life and vitality and sew its eyelids and mouth closed to hide its naturally morbid gaze.

After draining the body of blood, morticians pump embalming fluid into the veins to prevent the body from rotting before mourners have a chance to say their last goodbyes.

Traditional burials are not only expensive and grotesque but detrimental to the environment.

According to the Green Burial Pittsburgh, the U.S. buries millions of tons of materials with its dead every year. This includes 70,000 cubic meters of hardwood — typically sourced from rainforests — 104,272 tons of steel for caskets and vaults, and 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete.

Also, 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid fill the bodies of the dead each year.

Embalming fluid is made primarily of formaldehyde — which, buried beneath the Earth’s surface, becomes an environmental safety issue as this toxic liquid finds its way into watersheds, Green Burial Pittsburg said.

This absurd tradition of “honoring” the dead by disemboweling their bodies in a degrading manner, burying precious raw materials and damaging the environment needs to be re-assessed in light of more contemporary alternatives.

One alternative that is gaining popularity is the green burial, which allows the dead to undergo a natural process of decomposition.

The deceased can be buried without embalming fluid or a coffin to be completely biodegradable — and make the funeral considerably cheaper.

With a green burial, one’s body is absorbed back into the earth in part of a natural, environmentally friendly cycle of life and death — unlike a traditional burial, which fills the corpse with embalming fluids like a mummy.

Another green option is to incorporate the deceased into an artificial reef structure.

According to CNN, a company called Eternal Reefs will mix cremated ashes with concrete and place them in the ocean to become a home for fish and coral, helping to improve coastal conditions and wildlife habitats that are in danger of extinction.

Some people are even requesting that their ashes be compressed into diamonds.The process entails separating the carbon from the cremated remains and compressing them at 1,000,000 pounds per square inch, producing a diamond memorial that will last for thousands of years and can be attached to a ring, necklace or other jewelry.

Though it may seem a little bizarre to spend eternity as a pendant or a reef, these creative alternatives to burial illustrate that traditional methods are becoming obsolete.

Bryan Friesen is a junior majoring in mass communications.

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