July/August 2022 Church & State Magazine

Catholic Church Officials Oppose New Form Of Burial In California

  Catholic Church Officials Oppose New Form Of Burial In California

Some states are passing laws allowing people to convert their bodies into soil after death. It’s an eco-friendly solution that appeals to a growing number of Americans, but in California, legislation allowing this form of body disposal has run into opposition from the Catholic Church.

The process, called body composting, is legal in Washington, Vermont, Colorado and Oregon and may soon be allowed in New York as well. But in California, officials with the Catholic Church are opposing AB 351, legislation that would legalize the process, reported Religion News Service (RNS).

Formally known as natural organic reduction, the process involves placing human remains inside a large vessel and covering it with wood chips, alfalfa and straw. The container is sealed, and over 30 days microbes act on the body, converting it to soil. Recompose, a company in Washington state that has pioneered the method, says the body will be converted to one cubic yard of a nutrient-dense soil that can be used in a garden, used to nurture a tree or returned to a forest.

Cristina Garcia, a Democratic member of the state assembly, introduced the legislation. Garcia cited ongoing problems with air quality in California, some of which were pegged to an increase in cremations in the state after the coronavirus pandemic struck. Garcia said the legislation is another “sad reminder that we must legalize a more environmentally friendly option as soon as possible.”

Kathleen Domingo, executive director for the California Catholic Conference, said the process “reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity” and in a letter said the process is akin to disposing of livestock.

The method, Domingo charged in a letter to state lawmakers, “can create an unfortunate spiritual, emotional and psychological distancing from the deceased.”

The bill cleared the Senate Business, Professions, and Economic Development Committee last month on a 10-0 vote and now moves on to the Senate Health Committee.

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