A US company is talking up a new environmentally friendly method of destroying human corpses by alkaline hydrolysis which dissolves bodies into a sterile coffee coloured liquid but a Church spokesperson says the process is "undignified."
The International Herald Tribune reports the process was developed 16 years ago to get rid of animal carcasses.
It uses lye, heat and pressure to destroy bodies in big stainless steel cylinders that are similar to pressure cookers.
No funeral homes in the US or elsewhere offer the service, the equipment manufacturer claims.
Only two US medical centres use it on human bodies, and only on cadavers donated for research.
But because of its environmental advantages, some in the funeral industry say it could someday rival burial and cremation.
"It's not often that a truly game changing technology comes along in the funeral service," the newsletter Funeral Service Insider said in September. But "we might have gotten a hold of one."
Alkaline hydrolysis is legal in two US states including New Hampshire, where a Manchester funeral director is pushing to offer it.
But he has yet to line up the necessary regulatory approvals, and some New Hampshire lawmakers want to repeal the little noticed 2006 state law legalising it.
A local Catholic diocese has also rejected the method.
"We believe this process, which enables a portion of human remains to be flushed down a drain, to be undignified," said Patrick McGee, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Manchester.
In addition to the liquid, the process leaves a dry bone residue similar in appearance and volume to cremated remains. It could be returned to the family in an urn or buried in a cemetery.
The coffee coloured liquid has the consistency of motor oil and a strong ammonia smell. But proponents say it is sterile and can, in most cases, be safely poured down the drain, provided the operation has the necessary permits.
Alkaline hydrolysis doesn't take up as much space in cemeteries as burial. And the process could ease concerns about crematorium emissions, including carbon dioxide as well as mercury from silver dental fillings.
The University of Florida in Gainesville and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., have used alkaline hydrolysis to dispose of cadavers since the mid-1990s and 2005, respectively, the Herald Tribune says.
New idea in mortuary science: Dissolving bodies with lye (International Herald Tribune, 11/8/08)