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Friday, April 29, 2011

Calif. Lawmakers Seek Liquefaction as Alternative to Cremation

Calif. Lawmakers Seek Liquefaction as Alternative to Cremation
By Tori Richards

It sounds like the stuff of horror movies -- placing a body in a steel tube and then covering it with a mixture of water and acid until most of the remains are liquefied.

But it's actually a scientific process called alkaline hydrolysis that is on track toward becoming an alternative to cremation in California. Lawmakers are unanimously supporting a bill that would legalize the procedure with heavy oversight at mortuaries and funeral homes. Last year Florida passed a similar law, but no business has a license to perform the procedure.

California Assemblyman Jeff Miller sponsored the bill when he learned that it was an eco-friendly alternative to cremation.

"California is famous for going green, not only just as a way of life but as a way of taking care of loved ones in end of life," said Miller's legislative director, Johannes Escudero.

The decomposition process occurs with water and potassium hydroxide, which is then heated for at least three hours. Tissue and organs are dissolved into the liquid, while the bone is left behind as an ashy mixture similar to a cremation. The leftover water is treated and then flushed down a drain.

The process is pollution free because it releases no greenhouse gases into the air.

Escudero told AOL News that people should not get caught up in the logistics of the operation.

"The idea of dumping someone down the drain is a misnomer. It creates the idea that you are dumping Grandma down the drain, and that's not the case at all," he said. "There is nothing more inhumane than burning a body, which is the case with cremation."

Only three places in the nation conduct this procedure on humans as a way to dispose of cadavers used for scientific research -- the University of Southern California, the University of Florida and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

A fourth, Edwards Funeral Service in Columbus, Ohio, has been using alkaline hydrolysis for two months without a permit. Last month state officials ordered owner Jeff Edwards to stop using alkaline hydrolysis process; Edwards says he plans to sue.

The procedure has at least one detractor.

"We believe this process, which enables a portion of human remains to be flushed down a drain, to be undignified," Patrick McGee, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, N.H., told The Associated Press.

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