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New science fiction methods of body disposal proposed
Cambridge Crematorium
Cambridge Crematorium is "looking to provide choice for the bereaved"

Cambridge Crematorium could become the first in England to use new science fiction-sounding methods of body disposal.

These could involve freeze-drying bodies and dissolving them into dust.

Cremation, which is the most popular choice in the Cambridge area, is less environmentally-friendly than the proposed new methods.

"It's to do with the emissions," explained Tracy Lawrence, from the Cambridge City Council-run crematorium.

Crymotation or resomation?

There are two new methods for disposing of bodies which staff at the crematorium would like city councillors to consider.

Crymotation, which is also known as promession, is a freeze-drying method.

Bodies are frozen in liquid nitrogen until they are brittle enough to break up. They are then freeze-dried until they become dust, when they can be given to the bereaved families in urns or for burial.

Resmomation is a water-based method.

Bodies would be dissolved in an alkaline solution and, again, the remains reduced to dust.

"Both options are green," explained Tracy Lawrence, the crematorium's bereavement services manager.

"The bereaved would potentially gain some comfort that they've contributed towards the circle of life, for want of a better phrase, and reduce their carbon footprint."

Sir Henry Thompson

Cambridge crematorium
New methods of disposing of bodies in Cambridge could involve freeze-drying

Crymotation or resomation may sound gruesome to 21st Century ears, but just over 100 years ago, so did cremation to most 19th Century Britons.

Today around 90% of people in the Cambridge area choose cremation for their loved-ones, compared to 72% elsewhere in the UK.

Yet cremation fell out of favour as a method of disposing of bodies for centuries, because of the rise of Christianity and the belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead.

In the late 19th Century, Queen Victoria's surgeon, Sir Henry Thompson, became convinced cremation should be offered as an alternative to burial. He helped set up the Cremation Society of Great Britain.

The case of Dr William Price, who claimed to be a druid and cremated his infant son, was a turning point for those in favour of cremation.

He was prosecuted in 1883, but the judge ruled that cremation was not illegal unless it caused a nuisance.

However, it remained a minority choice in the UK for many decades.

And some Christian denominations, such as the Greek Orthodox, still do not endorse it.

'Not legal yet'

Cambridge Crematorium staff are looking at new options because they wish to offer the bereaved choices.

Even traditional burial is not as 'green' as might be supposed, said Tracy Lawrence, because the depth at which the coffins are placed slows down decomposition.

"However there are green options with burial," she continued. "The woodland burial, where the deceased is buried in a shallow grave [is] when decomposition is much quicker."

So will we be seeing crymotation, promession or resomation in Cambridge any time soon?

"The paper that we're taking to committee at the end of this month is recommending to councillors that we as a service, for want of a better word, have a watching brief on developments of all three processes," said Tracy.

"There is no legislation in the UK at present, so it's not legal yet."

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06 Aug 10 |  Nature & Outdoors
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23 Feb 10 |  Hampshire
Greece votes to allow cremations
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