Embalming: Fact vs. Fiction

When it comes to embalming, or any post-mortem procedure, there are many rumors, myths, and misunderstandings caused western culture’s tendency to keep anything related to death as far away from the living as possible.  It heightens fear, and cuts important planning.  It shrouds a guaranteed experience in mystery, and most people in our society would rather not have to think about any of it altogether.  However, death is not a matter of “if”, but “when”; and when that time arrives in a society where discussing such things is taboo, it leaves people at a loss when the time eventually comes to properly take care of their passing loved ones.  Here, we will take a deeper look at one of the most common American death traditions: embalming.  

A good reason to choose this method specifically is if there is a desire for a viewing in a funeral home (particularly of the remains of someone who died under more extreme circumstances), or if it will bring more peace of mind to grieving loved ones.  

With that said, embalming comes with its share of environmental hazards.  For example, the process of embalming involves a highly toxic and carcinogenic mixture of various chemicals known as embalming fluid.  In fact, formaldehyde, the main ingredient in embalming fluid, is listed in the top 10% of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) most hazardous and damaging chemicals.   If you are looking for greener burial options, you can check them out here.

Fact vs. Fiction:

MYTH: The body isn’t safe unless it has been embalmed.

FACT:  Embalming does not make a body “safer” or “cleaner” to be around.  In fact, while it may not always be pleasant to be around an unembalmed corpse, unless the person died from a communicable disease, a corpse itself is not a threat to public health simply by virtue of being dead.     

MYTH: It is a legal requirement that a body be embalmed

FACT:  There is no law in the United States that requires a body to be embalmed simply because the person died.  However, it may be a requirement from funeral homes in order to hold specific types of ceremonies.

MYTH: If a body is embalmed, it will never decompose.

FACT:  While embalming can temporarily slow down the natural decomposition of the body and give it a more “life-like” appearance, this is primarily for the benefit of loved ones who would like to see their family member or friend one last time as they were in life.  

MYTH: If a body is embalmed, they must remove the organs.

FACT: Organs do not need to be removed from the body in order to embalm it. During the embalming process, the abdomen may be “aspirated”, or have small incisions made into the cavity and its contents, in order to prevent a buildup of gasses.  Unless you are intending to donate your organs, if you are choosing embalming, there is no reason to remove them.   

Navigating final expenses and funeral arrangements can be overwhelming and emotional.  Don’t try to do it alone;  you can get help from a friendly expert, free of charge, by filling out a simple online form here.  

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