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Co-op Funeralcare to offer aquamation in the UK

07 July 2023

iStock

AQUAMATION or resomation, as an alternative to burial or cremation, will be offered by the Co-op Funeralcare in the UK later this year.

The funeral directors said that this was the first “major shift in UK funerals for more than 120 years”. It explained on Monday: “The process speeds up the natural process associated with burial. The deceased is enclosed in a biodegradable pouch and placed in a container filled with pressurised water and a small amount of potassium hydroxide.

“Each cycle takes approximately four hours. At the end of the cycle, the soft bones that are left are dried, then reduced to a white powder, similar to ash. The remains are then returned to relatives in a sustainable urn.” The water is discharged into the drainage system.

Resomation — from the Greek word meaning “return of the human body” — is available in 27 US states, and permitted in Canada and South Africa, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu chose to be cremated in this way in 2021. Ireland is also considering offering the method.

The Co-op says that, with 80 per cent of families choosing cremation, “it is time that alternative committal methods, such as resomation, are looked at as a mainstream option for UK funerals.”

In a comment piece in the Church Times in October 2019, Dr Paul Burnham, who is a retired senior lecturer in environmental science at the University of London, and a Reader in Canterbury diocese, emphasised the desirability of the method on aesthetic and environmental grounds, and its compatibility with Christian traditions (Comment, 25 October 2019). He charted progress to date in a letter after Archbishop Tutu’s funeral (Letters, 7 January 2022).

The topic came up at Questions in the General Synod in February. Canon Andrew Dotchin, the Synod’s representative on the ecumenical Churches’ Funeral Group, asked the House of Bishops, whether, “bearing in mind the Church of England’s care for the bereaved, as well as our commitment to net zero carbon, together with the environmental costs of current and future means for the disposal of human remains”, there were any theological objections to the use of Resomation or Human Composting, “or any pastoral recommendations for the reverent care of human bodies regardless of the manner of their disposal?”

The Bishop of Lichfield, Dr Michael Ipgrave, confirmed in a written answer that there been no formal theological consideration of either method, but that the Liturgical Commission was currently working on “a volume of resources that will encourage good practice in all aspects of funeral ministry”.

He invited Canon Dotchin to help to organise a consultation panel, including members of the Faith and Order and Liturgical Commissions to look at the question “in more detail and with ecumenical input”.

The Co-op has emphasised the need for all industries, including the funeral sector, to address the climate crisis. The managing director of Co-op Funeralcare, Gill Stewart, said: “Up until now, choice has been limited to burial or cremation.

“We’ve seen from the rapid uptake of newer funeral options such as direct cremation, that when choice in the funeral market is broadened, this is only a positive thing both for the bereaved and for those planning ahead for their own farewell.”

Professor Douglas Davies, from the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, said: “The UK has a history of innovation when it comes to compassionately, practically, and hygienically managing the disposal of bodies after death.

“Cremation grew in popularity throughout the 20th century, and overtook burial in the 1960s as the preferred method of disposal for people. The rise in ecological and sustainability concerns over the past decade, combined with the desire to be part of nature or laid to rest in a natural setting, means more people are considering the environmental impact of their body once they die.

“The reduced carbon footprint that may come with resomation, compared with other forms of body disposal, means it will no doubt be of interest to many people as the practice is increasingly made available in the UK. We have seen interest in water-based disposal build in many countries, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu being the most high-profile person to recently use this method.”

One finding of a YouGov poll in April, was that 29 per cent of UK consumers would choose alternative committal methods if available.

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