When you die, there are a limited number of things that can happen to your body. Many people choose a traditional burial in a casket in the ground or internment above in a mausoleum. Cremation is another option. You can also donate your body to science.
In some states, a new option is emerging: human composting. Also called natural organic reduction, the process involves placing the body in a container along with wood chips, straw and alfalfa. Over 30 days, the body breaks down and is transformed into nutrient-rich soil, which can be used to nourish a tree or a garden.
For many people, this is an impactful and environmentally friendly way to dispose of their remains because their body ends up giving sustenance to another living thing.
But some religious groups don’t see it that way. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) last month signed legislation that makes human composting legal, in the process rejecting arguments by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that the process fails to show proper respect for the dead.
Religion News Service reported that Kathleen Domingo, executive director for the California Catholic Conference, argued to lawmakers that human composting “reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity” and that using this method “can create an unfortunate spiritual, emotional and psychological distancing from the deceased.” (That’s quite a statement. Got any evidence for it?)
In New York, where efforts are under way to legalize human composting, the New York State Catholic Conference took a similar line, arguing, “While not everyone shares the same beliefs with regard to the reverent and respectful treatment of human remains, we believe there are a great many New Yorkers who would be uncomfortable at best with this proposed composting/fertilizing method, which is more appropriate for vegetable trimmings and eggshells than for human bodies.”
I’m sure some New Yorkers would be uncomfortable with this process. That’s why they’ll never be required to use it. Putting irrelevant assertions like this aside, the church’s argument boils down to, “This method offends our theology, therefore, no one should be allowed to use it.”
Not good enough. For some people, the idea of their body returning to the planet after death to nourish a tree or help give life to a beautiful field of flowers can have powerful – dare I say spiritual – meaning. That belief is no less valid than the belief of some church lobbyists who find this process distasteful.
Let’s not have the government judging a dueling theology contest. As human composting grows in popularity, decisions about whether to allow it must be made on secular grounds – not religious rationales that force all of us to live under the dogma favored only by some.