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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

A Natural Death
Is the industrial-strength American funeral the right way to bury our loved ones? One answer to that question can be found in a woodland in the Appalachian foothills.
By J. William Thompson, FASLA

Conventional burial in this country bears a lot of resemblance to toxic waste disposal. That's the conclusion of the Vermont-based publication Environmental Building News.

The News has a point. Consider the basic facts: First the deceased is drained of blood and pumped full of embalming fluids-formaldehyde and other poisons—concocted to slow the natural processes of decay. Then the body is hermetically sealed in a metal or wood coffin and vault designed to prevent contact with soil, water, and microorganisms.

This attempt to seal off the dead body from the natural processes of decay is all part of our culture's increasing desire to distance ourselves from—ultimately, to attempt to deny—the brute fact of death. We've become convinced as a culture that final respect for our loved ones requires an elaborate—and costly—ritual that pumps them full of poisons and encases them in steel. Of course, the $27-billion-a-year funeral industry has eagerly moved to fill this perceived need—or, probably more accurately, has helped to create it.

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