Burial, Cremation, or Plastination?

In life we often choose between two options. Paper or plastic? Sweetened or unsweetened? Burial or cremation? But as science progresses so do our choices for final disposition. An increasing number of people are adding plastination to their list of burial or cremation options. What is plastination? And who is signing up for it? Why would a person want to be plastinated?

Plastination is a process invented by German scientists Gunther von Hagens in 1993 whereby he replaces body fluids and fat with plastic. Then he sells the bodies from $200-$60,000 to academic institutions or Body Worlds exhibits. About 800 people on North America and 8,600 people worldwide have signed up to donate their bodies to the Body Worlds donor program. Most donors sign up for reasons of education and enlightenment, believing that putting their dead body on display will enable others to learn. Of course the donors and their families don’t make any money (and of course you and I are on the high end of being worth that $60,000, not the $200).

This is however a very controversial program in that it is often questioned where the bodies for the exhibits actually come from, legitimate donors, or victims of torture and execution from Chinese prisons. Legislation is pending in several states to make Body Worlds prove donor consent before they open in museums for public display.

I attended a Body Worlds exhibit in Denver several summers ago and have to admit that it was beyond fascinating. As a college instructor of Embalming I truly learned a lot about several of the different body systems. However, the group of high schools out on a field trip where not as impressed as I was, as they spent most of their time being loud, pointing, and laughing at the displays.

Plastination is new enough that right now I would classify it as a fad; whether Von Hagens is able to teach his methods to enough interested people that in the future it would become a more common type of disposition remains to be seen. But my guess, this too shall pass.

The Cost of a Funeral -- Dollars and Sense

Many readers of the End of Life Insights Professional Newsletter are in the position of helping people either plan funerals, or are frequently asked about funerals. One of the most common questions a client family will ask is, “How much does it cost to be buried?” Of course that’s like asking, “How much does it cost to get married?” There are so many variables in both scenarios that one dollar figure does not fit all.

A recently published survey by the National Funeral Directors Association lists sheds some insight on current traditional burial funeral costs. Now keep in mind that not every bride will have 250 guests and serve prime rib, and neither will every grieving family want a viewing, register book, or a metal casket. With that caveat; the national median cost for a funeral in the 2006 calendar year was $6,195. That doesn’t include cemetery costs (no, you can’t bury him in your backyard) or flowers (yes, you can pick those roses from your backyard).

Funerals are like anything else that you have to research and buy. Some people drive Lexus’, and others state with snobbery, “I wouldn’t drive a Lexus, even if I could afford one.” So what does that mean? People are different, and free to make their own choices. I don’t care if you drive a BMW, or an old Yugo; I’m not paying your insurance, gas, maintenance. What’s it to me? I feel the same way about a person’s right to choose what type of funeral ceremony they want; with the exception of doing absolutely nothing.

What’s really interesting about the number $6,195 is that before the casket is selected the figure is much lower, $3,930. Now let’s take these averages and remove everything that has to do with burial; the average figure falls to $1,948. That doesn’t include a service, a viewing prior to cremation, an urn, or the actual cremation fee for the crematory. What’s my point? Although some families will choose that $6,195 funeral, some families will also choose burial with no visitation, or a cloth covered casket. $6,195 really is just a number.

It’s important that your client families know they have options. Be careful about quoting a client a figure of $6,000 that they need to set aside for the funeral. They may need $10,000, or $1,000. Instead refer them to a few local funeral directors where they can determine what their funeral is going to cost based on what their actual needs are. Don’t scare people with big numbers like $10,000; but likewise, don’t sit in judgment of anyone who selects those services. Our funerals are personal; they reflect how we lived our lives, and what was important to us. Some people drive BMW’s, and some people drive Yugo’s. And yes, some people will spend $6,195 on their funeral.