1. Embalming is rarely required by law. The Federal
Trade Commission and many state regulators require that
funeral directors inform consumers that embalming is not
required except in certain special cases. Embalming is
required when crossing state lines from Alabama, Alaska,
and New Jersey. Three other states — Idaho, Kansas, and
Minnesota — require embalming when a body is shipped by
2. Embalming provides no public health benefit,
according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Canadian health authorities. Hawaii and Ontario forbid
embalming if the person died of certain contagious
diseases. Many morticians have been taught, however,
that embalming protects the public health, and they
continue to perpetrate this myth.
3. Embalming does not preserve the human body
forever; it merely delays the inevitable and natural
consequences of death. There is some variation in the
rate of decomposition, depending on the strength of the
chemicals and methods used, and the humidity and
temperature of the final resting place.
4. Ambient temperature has more affect on the
decomposition process than the time elapsed after death,
whether or not a body has been embalmed. In a sealed
casket in above-ground entombment in a warm climate, a
body will decompose very rapidly.
5. Embalming is a physically invasive process in
which special devices are implanted, and chemicals and
techniques are used to give an appearance of restful
repose. The normal waxy-white color of a dead body is
replaced with a more life-like tone by the use of dyes
in the embalming fluid.
6. Embalming chemicals are highly toxic. Embalmers
are required by OSHA to wear a respirator and full-body
covering while embalming. Funeral home effluent,
however, is not regulated, and waste is flushed into the
common sewer system or septic tank.
7. Refrigeration is an alternative to maintain a body
while awaiting a funeral service or when there is a
delay in making arrangements. Not all funeral homes have
refrigeration facilities, but most hospitals do.
8. Embalming has no roots in Christian religion and
is common only in the U.S. and Canada. Embalming is
considered a desecration of the body by orthodox Jewish
and Muslim religions. Hindus and Buddhists choosing
cremation have no need for embalming.
9. Private or home viewing by family members and
close friends can occur without embalming and is far
more "traditional" than some of the services promoted by
the industry under that name.
10. The funeral industry promotes embalming and
viewing as a means to show "proper respect for the
body," and to establish the "clear identity" of the
corpse so that the reality of death cannot be denied by
those who view the body. Many funeral directors are
convinced that seeing the body is a necessary part of
the grieving process, even if the death was long
11. Few funeral directors will participate in the
public viewing of a body without embalming and cosmetic
restoration. While some people may be comforted by "a
beautiful memory picture," as it's called in the trade,
32% of consumers reported that viewing was a negative
experience, according to a 1990 survey.
12. Embalming gives funeral homes a sales opportunity
to increase consumer spending (by as much as $3,000 or
more) for additional body preparation, a more expensive
casket with "protective" features perhaps, a more
expensive outer burial container, and a more elaborate
series of ceremonies.