Ask the Cremation Doctor


The Mortuary Science of Alkaline Hydrolysis – Is It Ethical?
May 20, 2011, 7:51 pm
Filed under: BIO Cremation, Green Cremation | Tags: ,

Sr. Renée Mirkes, O.S.F. Ph.D. is director of the Center for NaProEthics, the ethics division of the Pope Paul VI Institute, in Omaha, Nebraska. Sr. Mirkes published a thoughtful article in 2008 in The National Catholic Bioethics Center.

The article examines the philosophical thinking of several scholars on the subject of the dead human body, the Church’s long held views on burial and its changing views on cremation.  The article explains how in 1963, Pope Paul VI lifted the penalties previously connected to cremation by declaring that as long as faithful Catholics request cremation for valid reasons, i.e., reasons that arise from the exigencies of their situation but have nothing to do with denying the immortality of the soul or the resurrection of the body, it is a morally acceptable alternative to burial [6]

Sr. Mirkes then goes on to say, “There has been a change for the better in attitudes and in recent years more frequent and clearer situations impeding the practice of burial have developed. Consequently, the Holy See is receiving repeated requests for a relaxation of Church discipline relative to cremation. The procedure is clearly being advocated today, not out of hatred of the Church or Christian customs, but rather for reasons of health, economics, or other reasons involving private or public order”[7].

In regards to alkaline hydrolysis, Sr. Mirkes states, “A careful examination of the human body’s natural decomposition process after burial and the bodily decomposition involved in cremation reveals that the flashpoint of indignity with alkaline hydrolysis—specifically, pouring the liquid remains down a drain—is found in a similar form in the seepage after burial and in cremation through rain. Also, in the embalming process that precedes traditional burial, the blood and body fluids that are drained from the body are flushed into the sewer. Yet the Church does not forbid embalming. Furthermore, is burning a dead human body any less aggressive and, at first blush, any less offensive or violent, than the process of alkaline hydrolysis? And yet the Church allows cremation. Or, when we understand the slow, relentlessly destructive disintegration process within the buried body, is natural decomposition really any less offensive or repulsive than that which happens in alkaline hydrolysis?”[8] And therefore, “The process of alkaline hydrolysis is, in and of itself, a morally neutral action.”[9]

To reference footnotes and read entire article, please click here.

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