Recently I was sent a link to a news article by my other half. In all honesty, I saw a link to a news website and automatically assumed it was something relating to Brexit so my eye roll was long. Imagine my surprise at finding out it was this link titled ‘EU embalming fluid ban ‘to change funerals’’. I’d like to discuss my thoughts on the ban and the article itself. I have googled to find more information on this and the internet is a bit sparse with any other articles or sources of information but try it if you would like to know more.
My initial thoughts were that, pleasingly, this could influence the decrease in embalming cases that I long to see. We seem to have an assumption as a culture that embalming is always necessary and I will discuss with anyone who will listen why this is not the case. Later my thoughts and concerns turned to other aspects, sentiments that some people I know also agreed and echoed on social media. The article also has some statements that are simply not true, or are opinions presented as facts.
My main concerns are as follows. Firstly, like many others, it alarms me that the BBC journalist seems to think is not only important but also true that it is dangerous to view a non-embalmed body. This is not the case, and particularly damaging when you consider we never embalm and hold family viewings on a daily basis. It also oddly presents the idea that embalming is a traditionally Christian idea and the ‘ban’ threatens this Christian way of burial, not a concept I think is really relevant.
Secondly, the Formaldehyde they speak of is not only used in embalming but in many other situations. My job and many others come into contact with the chemical in the form of formalin. Formalin is a solution of around 40% formaldehyde that we use in order to preserve samples taken for the purposes of histology but also whole organs for examination. We come in contact with it not necessarily on a daily basis but often enough. Other jobs I know particularly include anatomists and anatomy schools who would not only embalm cadavers but also take samples and organs too. Not excluding the funeral directors we work with too. We all take precautions like wearing gloves, masks and breathing apparatus in order to protect ourselves when we do use it. More on Formaldehyde and it’s uses can be found here – https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formaldehyde.
I would like to state that I am not against embalming completely. I do believe there are situations when it is appropriate and should be used. I have even been involved in preparing one person in a situation where I believed it was worthwhile. What I disagree with is the almost roll out of it as standard practice and the lack of knowledge in the public of what is actually involved and what they are paying for. What I am trying to say is that in a situation where a family are not viewing their relative and they are being cremated or buried relatively quickly, I can only see the deceased person being embalmed as a way for the undertaker to make some extra money. I cannot see why a family should be encouraged for it at all in that scenario. The BBC article is inflammatory in that it only reinforces the thoughts that embalming is a necessary process, and it should never be said that you can only view the deceased if they have been embalmed.
Back to the actual ban, it would seem that not only is there no actual ban, the funeral industry has been granted three years in which to figure out an alternative. Something I hope goes in the direction of reducing the harsh chemicals used routinely but I fear will only lead to another chemical taking its place. What this means for academic and clinical practice situations I am not certain and I’m unable to find any real information. I can only think of keeping my eyes and ears open for any information going forward, so if you have any extra information please get in touch! I think the ban is actually on the use of formalin and there will be restricted use allowed but I would be interested to see what this entails.
For now I’ll leave you with Mystery Tool number two! Any guesses (still I will only accept answers from people who do not or have never worked in a mortuary setting please!) on what this might be and what it could be used for?
Mystery Tool Number 2- to be revealed soon!