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Thumbs-up for 'green' disposal of human remains

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue | Posted - Feb. 24, 2017 at 2:52 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A legislative committee Friday embarked on the squeamish discussion of a new way to dispose of human remains that could be covered and regulated under state law.

Thirteen states already allow the alkaline hydrolysis process to be carried out by licensed funeral homes, according to Brad Walker with the Utah Funeral Directors Association.

Walker spoke on HB387 to members of the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, who voted 9-4 to advance the measure sponsored by Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton.

Handy said alkaline hydrolysis is a new "green" method for disposing of human remains and needs to be carefully regulated.

"We want to ensure that this process is a licensed process by licensed funeral directors and that two guys in a garage don't start doing this," he said.

Alkaline chemicals and heat, sometimes combined with pressure, reduce human remains to a liquid, and dry bones are pulverized.

Walker said the process is completely different from cremation and should not be legally attached to that particular process. The carbon footprint is much less than a cremation, he said.

Cole Houghton, a funeral director in Tooele County, said he wants to be the first in Utah to provide the service, adding that it is important that the practice is regulated to preserve dignity and respect for families.

The byproduct is a sterile liquid that would be handled as wastewater, he added.

The bill prompted a delicate discussion among some lawmakers on the committee who struggled with the disposal method.

"I look at this at a different level, and that is the intrinsic human dignity of the human body, and that of course is a religious belief I believe in," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. "It just seems like a very macabre thing to do with a human body and the way that I believe. I'll be voting against this."

Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, said he was struggling with the idea, recalling a junior high science exercise in which a nail was dropped into a bottle of cola.

"Over the weekend, a mouse crawled into that bottle and we had the opportunity to watch him disappear. And that was a little bit disturbing to me," he said.

If alkaline hydrolysis becomes licensed by the state as a disposal method, Chew wondered what could be next.

"I wonder are there other means? Is the next thing we are going to be looking at is someone in the business of disposing of a human body wants to get an alligator and have a remnant 24 hours later to give to the family? I'm just a little concerned with the direction. I struggle if it is a good thing or not," he said.

Others wondered at the downstream effects on wastewater treatment plants.

Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, said the bill simply provides a choice for families.

"This is not mandating anybody do anything," he said. "If they want a greener way to do it and all that is left is soapy water, I say, 'Amen. Hallelujah.'" Email: Twitter: amyjoi16

Amy Joi O'Donoghue


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