Don’t Bury or Burn Me, Plant Me

Jennifer Maynard ’23

New York state became the most recent state to legalize human composting. This legislation is rare in a state so founded on tradition and steeped in religion. Some groups have pushed back against this, saying it is disrespectful to the body. However, I find it to be perfectly natural! Why shouldn’t humans be able to return to the Earth from which their matter originates? This illuminates the assumption that humans are separate from nature, rather than being part of it. 

The capacity for my body to biodegrade reaffirms my connection to the Earth, which I find comforting and beautiful. I return to a quote by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch who said, “from my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.” There is a beauty and a kind of immortality in giving your body over to fueling new life. Engaging with the life cycle where decay feeds life that then dies is central to the study of any ecologist or Earth scientist. These processes are revered and necessary for our planet to keep turning. I see my place in that process to be a privilege rather than an affront. 

I find it particularly odd that Christians are one of the primary groups pushing back against this change. For example, every year of my life I have celebrated Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday during which I was reminded that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” When learning about human composting, I couldn’t help but recall these words and think: is human composting not an effective way to return to dust and be reincorporated into the miraculous Earth that God is supposed to have blessed us with? Is human composting not the most straightforward way to be ‘brought back into the fold?’ Surely this is a better alternative to having your corpse pumped through with preservatives before being put in a box in the ground to slowly rot and never feed new life. To me, this is an indication of God’s beautiful, ineffable design, that allows our temporary bodies to be re-integrated into the cycles and processes of the Earth.

Perhaps I am in the minority, but this seems like a worthy and preferable option to being buried or cremated. This becomes especially clear when considering the cost. The National Funeral Directors Association estimates that an average burial costs roughly $9,000 in comparison to $7,000 for cremation. I don’t know about you guys, but that seems like a high price to pay for dying. Alternatively, human composting costs an average of $5,500 which, despite still being expensive, is less than the alternatives. 

Although the prospect of human composting may seem like a radical one, I would urge you to consider it as a more fiscally and environmentally responsible option; one which inters you not in a box isolated from the world but reincorporates you into the circle of life. 

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