3:45pm

Tue August 30, 2011
The Two-Way

When It's Your Time, Would You Like To Be Liquefied?

We had to read on after spotting this line atop a BBC News story today:

"A Glasgow-based company has installed its first commercial 'alkaline hydrolysis' unit at a Florida funeral home."

And just what does that involve? As the St. Petersburg Times explained last October:

"The body is placed in a pressurized drum that can hold up to 400 gallons of water (the amount of water depends on the size of the deceased) and the chemical potassium hydroxide, also known as potash lye. ...

"The mix is 96 percent water, 4 percent chemical. It's heated to 350 degrees and constantly recirculated through the drum for two to four hours, like a wash cycle that goes on for hours."

All that's left, according to the Times: "A murky but sterile liquid" and bone residue (plus metal if the deceased had something like a replacement joint). The bones "are pulverized into a white powder" and can then be put in an urn.

The process has been used for years on cadavers at some medical schools and on animal carcasses. It was briefly employed by a funeral home in Ohio earlier this year to dispose of 19 human remains, before state officials with questions about the safety of that murky liquid put a hold on the proceedings.

Proponents, as The Associated Press has reported, say the liquid "has the consistency of motor oil and a strong ammonia smell. But ... in most cases, be safely poured down the drain."

The company that manufactures the machine that's been installed in Florida says it's a greener alternative to cremations and burials. The cost is said to be about the same.

Some who aren't keen on the process called legislation in New York State that would have made it legal there the "Hannibal Lecter's bill." If you're not familiar with that fictional character, this All Things Considered story can bring you up to speed.

By the way, Breaking Bad fans will recall that Walter White dissolved a bad guy in episode 3 of season 1. But he used hydrofluoric acid — an effective, but apparently poor choice.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.