Bioethics Blogs

Human Remains for Compost: Repugnant or Resourceful?

I am a lousy gardener. Just this year I am considering a small attempt at growing a few vegetables organically in my backyard. Maybe it was the long winter, maybe it is a drive to live more sustainably, maybe it is the challenge of overcoming decades of plant growing failures. After carefully selecting a few packets of easy to grow seeds and starting a few slow-growers inside, I have turned my attention to creating the best growing environment for these fragile plants. Part of this effort includes learning how to create compost from kitchen and yard waste materials. While I search for a suitable compost bin to take position behind the garage, I am diligently collecting fruit cores, egg shells, coffee grounds, and discarded greens in airtight containers in my fridge. Researching my options, I stumbled across an article that had me doing a double take, “A Project to Turn Corpses Into Compost” in the New York Times online. I gasped in horror. Could this possibly be an ethical option for burial? Could this be legal? Was this environmentally safe? Was this a joke?

No joke at all, according to the article which details the process offered to persons and families interested pushing for this new expansion of the natural burial movement. Supporting arguments include drawing parallels between deceased human corpses and road kill corpses which are processed for composting (link from original article: YouTube). Additionally, there is supporting argument that unless a body is cremated, it will decompose anyway and simply take longer if embalmed so this is a more natural way of repurposing the remains for supporting new life through plants.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.