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 CNS Story:

BODIES-PROCESS Oct-24-2008 (710 words) xxxn

New human body disposal process raises alarms

By Peter Finney Jr.
Catholic News Service

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- It doesn't make for polite dinner-table conversation, but the national Catholic Cemetery Conference is raising alarms about a potential option for disposing of human bodies in which a lye solution dissolves tissues into a sterile, syrupy substance that can be safely flushed down a drain.

Although no funeral home in the U.S. currently is using the process, known as alkaline hydrolysis, two research medical centers -- the University of Florida at Gainesville and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. -- make use of it to dispose of cadavers.

The process, which proponents claim is safe for the environment and potentially cheaper than cremation, was developed in the U.S. in 1992 to dispose of animal carcasses. The two medical centers dispose of the liquid residue from the human cadavers by pouring it down the drain.

Minnesota and New Hampshire allow alkaline hydrolysis for animal remains. A funeral director in Manchester, N.H., is trying to get the necessary permits to operate an alkaline hydrolysis tank, but delays have put his plans on hold temporarily. In the process, water and potassium hydroxide are mixed, heated and pressurized in a steel tank to dissolve the body tissues.

Deacon Glenn Tylutki, outreach coordinator of cemetery services for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said he issued the warning about chemical digestion of human remains at the recently concluded meeting of the Catholic Cemetery Conference in Orlando, Fla., because of concerns that the practice violates the Catholic Church's reverence for the sacredness of the human body.

"I guess I don't know how to say it any better than it's a desecration," Deacon Tylutki said. "The process has no dignity and respect for the human body. In our faith, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit."

In May, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Doctrine, wrote Archbishop John G. Vlazny of Portland, Ore., that the hydrolysis process produces bone residue that "can easily be crushed into a powder" and returned to the family "just as the ashes are returned to the family after cremation."

"The many gallons of liquid, however, which contain the matter that was the rest of the body, are to be poured down the drain (or perhaps spread on a field as fertilizer)," Bishop Lori wrote. "Dissolving bodies in a vat of chemicals and pouring the resultant liquid down the drain is not a respectful way to dispose of human remains."

The New York State Catholic Conference publicly opposed a bill considered by the New York State Assembly that would have allowed "chemical digestion of human remains."

The conference said some hospitals and medical facilities that receive human bodies for research support alkaline hydrolysis "to avoid the expense of dignified handling of remains. Alkaline hydrolysis is dubbed to be a quicker, cheaper way of disposal of a human body. Respect and reverence in handling a human body must not be sacrificed for financial benefits to medical research facilities."

The bill failed to get out of either house of the New York State Assembly. Deacon Tylutki said if one or two states approve the process for funeral homes, the likelihood is it will lead to wider acceptance.

Deacon Tylutki said the church accepted the practice of cremation in 1963 but taught clearly that it was not a sign denying the sacredness of the human body. The cremated remains are to be treated with reverence and interred, not kept in an urn in the house, scattered on the seas or kept in a locket.

Sometimes well-meaning Catholics who have not been properly catechized will keep the ashes of a loved one rather than properly inter them. Also, children may want to save on funeral expenses.

"Sometimes it's a dollars-and-cents thing," Deacon Tylutki said. "The kids are looking at the bottom line. ... We need to do more catechesis."

Chemically dissolving the body brings another level of potential abuses to the human body, he said.

"It can be flushed right down the drain," Deacon Tylutki said. "I think we need to tell people about this so that if it's slipped into a bill, they will know it's not right and say, 'This is not what we want.'"


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