Health

cremation, religion, death

Cremation Gains Popularity During Recession

March 25, 2009 09:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
The number of cremations is increasing, but the process has received objections based on religious and environmental concerns.

Cremations on the Rise

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Cremations have been steadily increasing in popularity for years, but the recession has led to a sharp rise. Cemeteries in New York, where cremations have typically increased by 10 percent a year, reported an increase of nearly 30 percent in 2008.

"These are tough economic times," National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) spokesperson Jessica Koth told the CBS blog EconWatch, "and what we are hearing from our members is that more and more families are opting for cremation" because it is cheaper than burial.

A funeral package costs around $4,277, according to NFDA data. A casketed service plus cremation is less at around $4,054.

Perfect Memorials, a cremation urn distributor, has reacted to this trend by increasing promotion of its services. In a Marketwire article published by MSNBC, the company's president, Ryan Graf, said, "We strive to help bereaved families and individuals any way we can, and today more than ever, that includes helping them find affordable funeral goods and services."

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But cremation has been the subject of controversy on both religious and environmental grounds. Jewish and Catholic leaders have debated whether to accept the practice, which has traditionally been forbidden by their religious laws. In 2008, Hindus in Britain awaited a court decision in their fight to legalize open-air cremations, a traditional Hindu practice.

Crematories have received resistance from local residents who fear that cremation releases toxic chemicals into the air. The Atlanta suburb of Snellville held a heated debate over the opening of a crematory in August 2008.

Background: Cremation controversy

Religious issues
In many religions, cremations are forbidden or discouraged. Jewish law forbids cremation, and for many Jews the practice evokes images of the Holocaust. Cremation has become a very controversial subject in Israel, especially after Orthodox Jews were questioned following a fire that damaged the country’s only crematorium last August.
Catholicism prohibited cremation until 1963, and still strongly encourages burial. Last year, in response to the increase in cremations, a New Jersey diocese became the first diocese in the U.S. to build a crematory. “It is the wave of the future,” said Bishop Paul Bootkoski of the diocese. “We’re going along with what our Catholic population is looking for.”
Hindus traditionally perform public, open-air cremations over a wood fire, believing that it raises the body to heaven. The practice, which takes up to six hours, is harmful to the environment: It consumes an estimated 50 millions trees and produces 8 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.
Environmental issues
In many towns and cities, residents have objected to crematories being built. Many argue that crematories pose an environmental hazard because they release toxic chemicals into the air. Of particular concern is mercury, which is released when a corpse’s dental fillings are burned.
In 2007, health officials in Colorado asked crematory owner Rick Allnutt to install smokestack filters or agree to remove fillings from the corpses. According to The Nation, "Allnutt refuses to do either, calling the first option too expensive and the second ghoulish."
There have been relatively few studies on the issue, but most have found that crematories release only a small amount of toxic chemicals into the air. The Environmental Protection Agency has conducted little research but a 2005 study predicted “an increase in emissions for the next several decades, followed by a decrease.”
Paul Rahill, president of Matthews Cremation Division, discussed the issue in a 2008 report. Citing the results of two British studies and one study performed at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York, the average mercury emissions from these tests was just .568 grams.

Reference: Funeral planning

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