What You Should Know About Embalming
Embalming has long been an issue under consideration by funeral homes, the Federal Trade Commission, and the newly bereaved. A costly (and often unnecessary) procedure, embalming gets quite a bit of backlash from critics—but that does not mean it has no place in today’s funeral industry. Before you decide if you’d like to have your loved one embalmed, consider these facts and regulations.
- Laws require embalming ONLY in special cases. Regardless of what you may have heard, there are no laws that require you to embalm unless you are traveling over certain state lines or are having a body shipped via public transportation (planes or trains). Your state can provide more details.
- Embalming does not stand the test of time. It is impossible to prevent a body from decaying, no matter what kind of preventative steps you take. Although embalming slows the decay process, it does not halt it—and extenuating circumstances such as the temperature and humidity in the environment will also play a role.
- Having a loved one embalmed is an invasive process. Although the purpose of embalming is typically to see the deceased at rest for an open casket, the restful appearance is only on the surface. In addition to cleansing the body, embalming requires the funeral director to implant devices and chemicals that are not natural to the human body.
- Refrigeration is often a viable alternative to embalming. If you are considering embalming simply because the funeral must be delayed (and not because you want a body viewing), you may be able to choose refrigeration instead. Not all funeral homes have refrigeration facilities on site, however, so you may need to call around or have the body stored at a hospital.
- Some funeral home policies require embalming for a viewing. This isn’t a law; instead, it is company policy. If you disagree with this policy, you can choose to take your loved one elsewhere.
- Some mausoleums also require embalming as part of their company policy. Again, this isn’t a legal requirement—rather, it’s a private business one. Because the cemetery is their private property, they can usually uphold these policies.
- Traumatic deaths and/or situations where an autopsy occurred typically benefit from embalming more than traditional deaths. When a body has been badly damaged in an accident or otherwise opened up (for an autopsy or organ donation), embalming and restoration can go a long way in returning your loved one to a more natural state. While this isn’t required, it is recommended—especially if you’d like to view the remains before burial.
- In some funeral homes, eco-friendly fluids are available in place of the harsher chemicals. Because of the environmental impact of embalming, some people are hesitant to opt for it. More eco-friendly fluids may be available, upon request.
For most families, embalming comes down purely to a matter of choice. Whether for cultural or religious reasons, personal preference, or the wishes of the deceased, this is a process that not everyone is in favor of. And that’s okay. As long as you find a funeral home that is willing to respect your decisions, you can plan the perfect viewing and funeral service—with or without embalming.