Sky burials? "Human composting?" Coming soon to Washington state

If you’re one of those people who plans everything out to the last detail, including your funeral preparations, you may want to consider moving to Washington State before you die just so you can have all possible options on the table. In this case, the option in question is to have your body “composted” into what’s basically potting soil so your loved ones can scatter you in the garden to make the plants grow more easily.

Oh, sure. You probably think that’s just Jazz making another crude joke, right? But I’m here to tell you that pending legislation in Washington may soon make that an option and it will cost less than your average funeral. Let’s go to the story from Fox News.

Washington state lawmakers on Friday passed a bill that would allow residents take part in “natural organic reduction” of human remains, citing in part research that said careful composted human remains could be safe for use in a household garden, reports said.

The Seattle Times reported that Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s office on Friday said he did not review the final legislation. Inslee– who is running for president– has been active on Twitter since the state Senate and House of Representative passed bill 5001, but did not mention the bill in any posts. The bill reportedly passed easily and had bipartisan support.

The report pointed out that the measure has been several years in the making. There was a trial that involved six backers who agreed to organic reduction. The results were positive and “the soil smelled like soil and nothing else,” the report said.

So… creepy? Oh my, yes. It’s creepy as all get-out. You turn over the remains of your loved one and in a few weeks, they are returned to you in what’s basically a Home Depot fertilizer bag you can dump out on the lawn or in a flower garden. So does that mean the procedure should be banned?

Perhaps I’ll surprise some of you by saying no. Most Americans envision either some sort of normal funeral and burial in a cemetery or possibly cremation. But I still believe that end of life decisions are best left to the individual (within reasonable limits, providing they don’t adversely impact others) or to the family in cases of early, unanticipated death. If someone feels they will be happier knowing their remains will help a tree grow (as one customer opined), who is that really hurting?

There have been a variety of alternative ways to deal with the remains of our dearly departed going around for a while now. One of the most extreme is a sky burial, as is practiced in Tibet. The deceased is placed out in the open near the mountain tops and eaten by vultures. A slightly less gruesome option is the choice of a natural burial. In this case, the body is not embalmed with toxic fluids, but instead buried directly in the earth, sometimes with a biodegradable coffin or shroud, so the body can naturally decompose and return to the soil.

All of these methods tend to not only cost less than a full, traditional burial but have less impact on the land and don’t take up as much space as traditional cemeteries do. As Rodney Dangerfield said in Caddyshack, “golf courses and cemeteries are the biggest wastes of prime real estate.” Yes, that sounds rather cynical (sorry) but there’s a ring of truth to it. If that’s how people choose to shuffle off this mortal coil and they’re not interfering with anyone else, who are we to deny them?

A lot of wacky ideas come out of Washington state and the idea of “composting” people certainly sounds like one more of the same. But this proposal involves very personal decisions that everyone has to face sooner or later and I’m not sure we want the government taking too heavy of a hand in such things.