Alkaline hydrolysis (body disposal)
Alkaline hydrolysis (also called biocremation, resomation, flameless cremation, or water cremation) is a process for the disposal of human and pet remains using lye and heat. The process is being marketed as an alternative to the traditional options of burial or cremation.
The process is based on alkaline hydrolysis: the body is placed in a pressure vessel that is then filled with a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide, and heated to a temperature around 160 °C (320 °F), but at an elevated pressure, which prevents boiling. Instead, the body is effectively broken down into its chemical components, which takes approximately four to six hours. A lower temperature and pressure may be used, but at a longer duration (98 °C (208 °F), 14 to 16 hours). At the beginning of the process, the mixture is strongly basic, with a pH level of approximately 14; pH drops to 11 by the end, but the final pH level depends on the total operation time and the amount of fat in the body.
The result is a quantity of green-brown tinted liquid (containing amino acids, peptides, sugars and salts) and soft, porous white bone remains (calcium phosphate) easily crushed in the hand (although a cremulator is more commonly used) to form a white-colored dust. The "ash" can then be returned to the next of kin of the deceased. The liquid is disposed of either through the sanitary sewer system, or through some other method, including use in a garden or green space. To dispose of 1,000 pounds (450 kg), approximately 60–240 US gallons (230–910 l; 50–200 imp gal) of water are used, resulting in 120–300 US gallons (450–1,140 l; 100–250 imp gal) of effluent, which carries a dried weight of 20 pounds (9.1 kg) (approximately 2% of original weight).
This alkaline hydrolysis process has been championed by a number of ecological campaigning groups, for using 90 kWh of electricity, one-quarter the energy of flame-based cremation and producing less carbon dioxide and pollutants. It is being presented as an alternative option at some British crematorium sites. As of August 2007[update], about 1,000 people had chosen this method for the disposition of their remains in the United States. The operating cost of materials, maintenance, and labor associated with the disposal of 2,000 pounds (910 kg) of remains was estimated at $116.40, excluding the capital investment cost of equipment.
Alkaline hydrolysis has also been adopted by the pet and animal industry. A handful of companies in North America offer the procedure as an alternative to pet cremation. Alkaline hydrolysis is also used in the agricultural industry to sterilize animal carcasses that may pose a health hazard, because the process inactivates viruses, bacteria, and prions causing transmissible spongiform encephalopathy.
The process was originally developed as a method to process animal carcasses into plant food, patented by Amos Herbert Hobson in 1888. In 2005 Bio-Response Solutions designed, sold, and installed the first single cadaver alkaline hydrolysis system and placed it in Mayo Clinic where it is still used today. In 2007, a Scottish biochemist, Sandy Sullivan, started a company making the machines, and calling the process (and company) Resomation.
In Christian countries and cultures, cremation has historically been discouraged and viewed as a desecration of God’s image, and as interference with the Resurrection of the dead taught in Scripture. It is now acceptable to some denominations, since a literal interpretation of Scripture is now less common.
Judaism forbids cremation as it does not fit in line with the teachings of respect and dignity due to humans, who are created in God’s image.
Islam forbids cremation of the deceased.
When alkaline hydrolysis was proposed in New York state the New York State Catholic Conference condemned the practice, stating that hydrolysis does not show sufficient respect for the teaching of the intrinsic dignity of the human body.
Alkaline hydrolysis as a method of final disposition of human remains is currently legal in nineteen states. Additional rules are pending in New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The process was legal in New Hampshire for several years but amid opposition by religious lobby groups it was banned in 2008 and a proposal to legalize it was rejected in 2013. Alkaline hydrolysis has been used for cadavers donated for research at the University of Florida since the mid 1990s and at the Mayo Clinic since 2005. UCLA uses the process to dispose of donor bodies.
|Alabama||2017||H-212||Added definition of alkaline hydrolysis.|||
|California||2017||AB967||Alkaline hydrolysis has been used at UCLA since 1995 for donated cadavers. Previously, AB 1615 (2012) was advanced and passed the Assembly, but died in Senate.|||
|Florida||2010||SB1152||In use at the University of Florida since the mid 1990s.|||
|Georgia||2012||HB933||SB296 pending in House to remove conflicting language.|||
|Idaho||2014||Docket 24-0801-1301||Adopted in a docket amending the Rules of the State Board of Morticians.|||
|Illinois||2012||SB1830||Enacted as Public Act 97-0679.|||
|Kansas||2010||HB2310||Modified K.S.A. 65-1760 to define cremation as "the mechanical and/or other dissolution process that reduces human remains to bone fragments."|||
|Maine||2009||144 CMR 244|||
|Maryland||2011||HB995||Added definition for cremation as "the process of reducing human remains to bone fragments through intense heat and evaporation, including any mechanical or thermal process."|||
|Minnesota||2003||SF1071||In use at the Mayo Clinic since 2005.|||
|Missouri||?||?||20 CSR 2120-2.071 does not prohibit alkaline hydrolysis in the definition of cremation.|
|New Hampshire||2008||SB332||Legislation to reinstate alkaline hydrolysis was rejected in 2013.|||
|North Carolina||2018||GS 90-210.136|||
|Oregon||2009||SB796||Added "dissolution" to the definition of final disposal.|||
|Texas||—||—||—||HB1155 (2017) died in committee.|||
|Vermont||2014||H.656||Enacted as Act No. 138|||
|Wyoming||2014||HB25||Enrolled Act No. 21 adds definition for "chemical disposition."|||
Saskatchewan approved the process in 2012, becoming the first province to do so. Quebec and Ontario have also legalized the process. A funeral home in Granby, Quebec, was the first in the province to receive an alkaline hydrolysis machine.
A public crematorium operated by Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council at Rowley Regis, central England, was the first to receive planning permission to offer the process but in March 2017 the local water utility, Severn Trent Water, refused the council's application for a "trade effluent permit" because there was no water industry standard regulating the disposal of liquified human remains into sewers.
Aquamation based in New South Wales is the only company to currently provide alkaline hydrolysis in Australia. With the remains being used as fertilizer on plantation forests, due to difficulty with obtaining permits from Sydney Water.
Since 2019 Grupo Gayosso offers alkaline hydrolysis in Baja California.
In May 2020, the Health Council of the Netherlands issued an advisory report on the admissibility of new techniques of disposing of the dead. The Council proposed a framework to assess alkaline hydrolysis. It concluded that alkaline hydrolysis is safe, dignified and sustainable. In addition to alkaline hydrolysis, the Council also considered human composting as a technique to dispose bodies yet concluded that too little is known about composting and hence it cannot be assessed whether this technique fulfills the conditions. Taking into account the Council's recommendations, the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations currently prepares a law proposal to amend the Corpse Disposal Act. Once the law proposal has been submitted to the Parliament, the democratic process to admit alkaline hydrolysis as body disposal technique can be commenced.
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- "Bio Cremation – UCLA Donated Body Program". ucla.edu.
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Cremation was unheard of from the time Charlemagne outlawed it (784) until the 17th century. At that point, the practice was urged primarily by those opposed to the church, and for a long time cremation was forbidden by Roman Catholicism and practiced only reluctantly by Protestants. Recently, these strictures have eased, and more and more churches have established columbaria or memorial gardens within their precincts for the reception of the ashes by the faithful.
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- New Hampshire General Court (2008), SB332 (2008): prohibiting the disposal of human remains through a reductive process utilizing alkaline hydrolysis in New Hampshire and establishing a committee to examine the practice of resomation.
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- "Aquamación, lo nuevo para sustituir al entierro o cremación".
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