How should I dispose of my body?
November 12, 2008 3:56 AM   Subscribe

What are the least wasteful and/or most productive (preferably legal) things that can be done with my body after I'm dead?

Burial doesn't sound too great because it takes up a perfectly good chunk of land indefinitely. And even if ashes actually make good fertilizer, it doesn't seem like that would outweigh the energy involved in cremating a corpse.

The best post-mortem activity I can think of right now is donating to science (things like The Body Farm seem pretty neat), but I'm wondering what other interesting disposal methods there might be out there. I welcome all your suggestions!
posted by Arasithil to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
As a first step, I'd say you should try to donate as many organs as possible - living organs are far more valuable to society than dead ones. After that there are a number of options. Burial at sea is one that comes to mind - it pretty much guarantees you'll become nutrition for living organisms, though it can be quite a complex process to arrange (depending on where you live).
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:21 AM on November 12, 2008

Best answer: Also, there are places like this (just down the road from me) where you do end up with a chunk of land, but it is at least land that is being preserved for nature.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:23 AM on November 12, 2008

Promession is freeze drying your corpse and turning it into nutritious grey pellets sorta. That wikipedia article has a few links to other eco-friendly burial methods as well.

If you're in the US Navy you have the option of having your casket dumped into the sea. That seems pretty cool to me.

Skyburials are pretty neat. I mean, eaten by vultures, how awesome isn't that?
posted by uandt at 4:30 AM on November 12, 2008

Best answer: I asked pretty much the same question not too long ago, some of the answers there may be of interest to you.
posted by davey_darling at 4:35 AM on November 12, 2008

Best answer: Burial in a woodland cemetery? You take up a perfectly good chunk of land in the form of a tree & associated woodland ... stuff, instead of going down the path of pumped full of formaldehyde, sealed coffin, manicured lawn and plastic flowers. Support your local ecosystem, turn yourself directly into fertiliser! Might be easier to find a woodland cemetery in some countries than others, though.

If this is an option that would be available to you or whoever else you might be burying, it may still be available if the cadaver is e.g. donated to a medical school for anatomical examination first, as they will return the remains when they are finished with them (special permission is required to retain any body parts longer than a pre-agreed time, or at least it is in my country).

My grandmother had several specific requests as to what should be done with her remains, all listed in order of preference in her Will: if she had died while any of her organs were still usable for donation, that's where they should have gone; her brain was to be donated for research into the neurological condition she suffered from, and if possible everything else donated for anatomical examination or medical research. As it happened, medical schools cannot accept cadavers for anatomical examination if they have any parts missing, and her local medical school had no research need for a cadaver with no brain, so her body mostly ended up being cremated (also as requested). She'd told us about these requests well in advance of becoming ill, and stated them clearly in her Will, which were both very helpful to us in making the necessary arrangements.
posted by Lebannen at 4:46 AM on November 12, 2008

Donating your body to teaching anatomy to medical students.
posted by chrisalbon at 5:16 AM on November 12, 2008

I'm gonna be an Eternal Reef.
posted by Mach5 at 5:56 AM on November 12, 2008

I was in the Navy and we did 2 burials at sea for retied Vet's, but both times it was the ashes. Not a casket.
posted by whoda at 6:01 AM on November 12, 2008

Your first step is to take very good care of yourself now so you can donate lots of your organs. After that there are two avenues: the advancement of science or green disposal. If you go the science route you'll probably be preserved so a true green burial isn't likely. Burial at sea is probably the greenest if you can arrange it.
posted by substrate at 6:12 AM on November 12, 2008

Most existing gravesites can accommodate more than one person; when my mom died, she wanted to be buried with her grandmother (didn't work as grandmother's casket was positioned wrong in the grave and my mom wasn't cremated). We buried my dad's ashes in his father's gravesite at a military cemetery (yes, he was also eligible for his own plot).

Me, I'm planning for as much organ harvest as I can manage, and then either cremation and burial, or donation to the Body Farm (which accepts both cremated remains and full bodies, but does NOT return remains to the family, ever).
posted by catlet at 6:45 AM on November 12, 2008

creepy/cool. Based on the details at the designer's website I think it's just conceptual right now.
posted by lowlife at 7:09 AM on November 12, 2008

Donation to the University of Tennessee's body farm ensures that your remains will be used to help investigators establish the time/cause of death of others, potentially bringing untold relief/closure to relatives of those deceased in unusual circumstances. Seems like a pretty good use to me. Youtube link (NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH)
posted by merocet at 8:08 AM on November 12, 2008

Donate your organs first, if applicable, maybe offer larger chunks (such as your head or legs) to science (warning: in this case, SCIENCE! may be training plastic surgeons or crash or ammunition testing, a good read is Stiff by Mary Roach for possible outcomes with this), finally, have what remains cremated. If you know a ceramicist, it's trivial to have your ashes made into a medium or low fire glaze. You can be used to decorate very durable tableware or other ceramic objects. The technology of the bone ash glaze is quite old (around 500 years) and many extant examples are around in museums today.

In fact, this is how I plan to have my remains disposed of.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:30 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Doh, davey_darling, I'm sorry! I guess I didn't search thoroughly enough. Thanks for the link (and I'm Canadian, too, so even better!).

To everyone else: thank you! I should probably have mentioned that I am definitely going to be donating organs. Promession and sky burial sound pretty cool, although I'm not sure how accessible (especially the latter); all the other suggestions are great, too, but I think I'd personally be most interested in natural burial. Thanks again for all the suggestions!
posted by Arasithil at 2:40 PM on November 12, 2008

I'm donating my brain to The Harvard Brain Bank, because they have a shortage of brains from people with Tourette Syndrome. Turns out there's a shortage of normal brains, as well.

If your brain, like mine, is abnormal, take advantage of it and find out who needs it! I like to think my disfigured little basal ganglia might lead to better medications and treatment for people born after me. Also, telling people Harvard wants your brain after you die is totally awesome.
posted by Juliet Banana at 4:19 PM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

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