In our current article,
we investigate the myth and reality of the disinfection, preservation,
restoration debate in the embalming trade. How the three tenets of embalming
are defined and the permutations thereof with the end result being a
cloaked formaldehyde apology and veiled justifications for embalming.
The archaic research regarding this argument and the modem absolutist/absurdist
spin on the topic is discussed. The CDC’s and other medical researchers
position on the topic and the funeral industry’s cloaked denial of the
obvious is detailed. In summary, a new definition, a new prioritized
reasoning and a new path for modern embalming is presented. As always,
brutal honesty, my personal opinions and cutting humor abounds. With
that thought in mind, I invite you to read on.
My lungs are inflamed with
The Fumes of Form-alin
With a stench we have smelled for a hundred years
My lungs gasp for breath at The Fumes of Form-alin
My eyes itch and burn and then comes the tears
My lungs want to breathe some fresh mountain air
That so gently blows through the trees
My heart palpitates and my sinuses ache
And I can’t stop the sneeze
To breathe through my nose very normally
And just be cancer-free
To breathe and not gasp, like someone who is allergy-free
I turn on the fan, but the stench it lingers
I know I will breathe what I’ve breathed before
My lungs will be cursed
With The Fumes of Form-alin
And I’ll gasp once more
the tune of “The Sound Of Music”
||by the world
famous FormaldaTRAPP Singers
And once more, indeed, let’s
hear it for tradition and good old formaldehyde. That’s really the whole
point -right? – keep everything the same, don’t rock the boat and don’t
question anything that has been done for a hundred years. The only problem
is all the justifications and arguments for Stone Age style formaldehyde
embalming are based on misunderstanding, misdefintion, misapplication
and faulty, out-of-context logic. The result being, that the embalming
trade looks silly under the bright lights of medical/epidemiological
science and research. The whole embalming debate is based on faulty
assumptions, starting with the very first word – disinfection.
Disinfection does not equate
with embalming, it never has and it never will. You can discuss disinfection
ability of certain chemicals and their use in disinfecting action on
instruments, surfaces and inanimate objects, but in no way is disinfection
an endpoint result or even an achievable goal in embalming. What is
achievable in embalming is generalized sanitation and overall reasonable
to significant reduction in infectious titres of microorganisms on a
temporary basis. Disinfection, however, by strict modem definition,
is not. When looked at logically, this is obviously the case. How could
any corpse, regardless of how well embalmed, be documentably, essentially,
near infectious microorganism free in all body tissue compartments for
any specified amount of time? The answer is, it’s just not possible.
This myth and misunderstanding
has been perpetuated throughout the embalming industry by touting references
to half-century old embalming textbooks and 40 to 50 year old research
reports that used obsolete methodologies and out-of-context conclusions,
that would not pass muster in the modern world of microbiological investigation.
In the embalming trade, even the most comprehensive and modern of textbooks
dwell on and allude to these archaic justifications and rationalizations
for Stone Age style formaldehyde embalming. Even archaic, quarter-century
old articles regarding formaldehyde exposures in embalming are reprinted
and referenced, as if they are somehow still relevant. Sadly, these
are just feel good history facts and cloaked apologies for formaldehyde
to justify the pervasive ”everything is just alright” mentality of the
industry. And some, in the industry, wonder why we never embrace the
future and always turn to the past to justify our very existence?
This concept was brought
home to me at an early age when I showed up at embalming school and
picked up my “modern” embalming textbook. Upon bringing it home, I was
shocked to find that it was identical to the textbook that had been
sitting on the shelf in my Dad’s office for almost a quarter-of-a-century!
Nothing, absolutely nothing had changed! Actually, his copy was better
– mine was a cheaper reprinting and had a weak spine that broke in the
first week. I ended up using the old edition of the textbook, his funeral
compend questions and his embalming notes and sailed through the course.
This embalming textbook is now pushing an astounding 50+ years old.
What profession would fail
to evolve so significantly as ours? Few, if any, I think. What future
heart surgeon would be presented with the same, essentially unrevised,
textbook as his father used a quarter-ofa-century ago, upon arriving
at medical college? Would you want your surgeon to rely on a 50-year
old textbook on surgical procedures of the heart? I didn’t think so.
Would this medical student be referred to early articles in the Journal
Of The American Medical Association that investigated the treatment
of certain asthmas and recommended moderate cigarette smoking as a curative?
No, instead, these would be read and examined as humorous, self-serving,
and erroneous examples of misguided and faulty research and thinking,
that the medical profession had long left in the dustbin of the past.
Granted, nothing we do is lifesaving surgery, but that’s not an all-encompassing
excuse for archaism. Unfortunately, it seems, the funeral industry is
in the dustbin, can’t see the way out, and spends all its time justifying
why the dustbin is really not so bad anyhow.
The disinfection concept
is the rationale behind the CDC stance that embalming in no way serves
any public safety or health function. Millions of unembalmed corpses
worldwide, in any given year, are safely disposed of by numerous means,
without any impact on public health or safety and generate no documented
outbreaks of disease that endanger society, the mourners, or anybody
else. Obviously, corpses, in general, are not significant infectious
hazards to societies and can be dealt with by simple and commonsense
procedures and protocols. Even the few bizarre and rare situations that
occur, such as Ebola, etc., are contained and controlled by measures
that do not involve any embalming process. In fact, the invasive measures
of embalming are liable to increase the risk of a fulminating outbreak,
by opening up portals and compartments of infectious titre that are
best left closed or sealed. Consequently, even in these instances, embalming
is purposefully not done. Several medical/epidemiological researchers,
in fact, recommend against embalming of bodies, and particularly bodies
with highly contagious diseases (T.B., meningitis, hepatitis, etc.),
as they feel the very procedures of embalming place the embalmer and
the embalming environment at a higher infectious risk and no valid overall
public safety function is achieved in the embalming process, anyway.
That embalming is some kind
of last ditch defense against epidemics or pandemics is generally acknowledged
by the funeral industry – unfortunately, this stance is completely false.
This supposition is highly touted by embalmers, the embalming trade
and funeral-related lobbying groups as a prima facie justification for
archaic formaldehyde embalming and the funeral industry, in general.
A recent example being the British Institute of Embalmers (BIE) rather
pitiful attempt to circumvent the EU Biocide Directive and the banning
of formaldehyde, by professing that archaic formaldehyde embalming is
the only thing that would save the continent when the Bird Flu epidemic
strikes. Sadly, embarrassingly, these overblown arguments and conclusions
are rampant in the industry. Repeated references to Asian Bird Flu,
anthrax, smallpox, cholera, meningitis, deadly hemorrhagic fevers and
other diseases are constantly made with the inference that the embalming
of corpses is somehow a firewall against the spread of contagion. The
facts, however, do not support these claims and there is absolutely
no evidence that any of this is true, much to the chagrin of the funeral
Well, that’s the story on
disinfection and embalming. The fear and loathing in the funeral industry
is palpable regarding this decidedly inconvenient conundrum. How do
you justify archaic formaldathinking, 100 year-old obsolete embalming
procedures, turn-of-the-l9th-century undertaking, and still commune
with the modern world? Simple, you play it two-faced. You play up medical/sociological
research findings that seems to justify your existence and make you
look good and then, throw stones or turn a blind eye to all that contradicts
and undermines the built-in archaism and obsolescence in the industry.
It’s a pretend game, but you usually get your cake and eat it too –
maybe. Some embalming fluid makers like to play this game with the CDC
– picking and choosing medical findings that advocate bleach, glutaraldehyde
only for disinfection of instruments, anything/everything for embalming,
so why not good old formaldehyde, but when the rubber hits the road
about the uselessness of embalming – it’s time to pull out the hieroglyphic
stone tablets, invoke the undertaking/embalming gods of yore, and pretend
the issue is not resolved. Anecdotal facts and figures, absolutist/absurdist
arguments, traditions and the occasional used-car salesman also help
to fog the mirrors and make the FormaldaWizard look good. Was that the
first right after the second left on the yellowbrick road, or the other
way around? I forget – at any rate we’re going to OZ.
Like, for example, with
CJD cases – nothing works, so use formaldehyde anyway, bleach is dangerous
with formaldehyde, but use bleach and formaldehyde anyway – any questions?
I didn’t think so. This is a “reductio ad absurdum” argument where everything
is judged on an either/or absolutist scale with illogical conclusions
being the result. Seatbelts in cars are not 100% effective and a rope
tied around your waist isn’t either, so therefore, it doesn’t matter
what you use – nothing works anyway, right? Wrong! I will choose modern
multi-point restraint harnesses anyday over a rope nailed to the floorboards.
Logic dictates that a graded continuum of effectiveness be evaluated
that results in your odds being improved and maximized. Of course, these
classic absolutist/absurdist arguments are all just a thinly veiled
formaldehyde apology that attempts to default formaldehyde to a universal
“just-as-good-as” status to justify its continued use in any and all
embalming situations. In addition, of course, it is mandatory that you
disavow, condemn and dis/myth inform regarding any new, safer, simpler,
saner, lower exposure, alternatives to Neanderthalic formaldabalming
as merely propaganda or a sales scam perpetrated on unsuspecting, traditionalist
funeral directors. Hey, when you phrase it like that – who would want
to ever change? And that’s really the whole point isn’t it?
So, do the tenets of embalming
make any sense at all? Is there any justifiable or advantageous results
of embalming? The answer, is absolutely yes – you just have to ask the
question in the correct way. For the record, embalming is not justified
by the sanitizing effect – period, instead, the resulting temporary
sanitizing effect is desirable and justified by the very act of embalming,
itself. If temporary sanitation did not result from embalming, then,
embalming would, by definition, be contra-indicated in all cases as
a threat to public health and safety and not just an optional procedure
performed on the dead. In fact, it is more multi-faceted than this:
the results from embalming operations must enhance overall societal,
individual and environmental safety, in addition to delivering a temporary
sanitizing effect. If it does not, then it is disavowed as an optional,
but acceptable procedure on the dead. And, consequently, herein lies
all of the valid, modern and provocative arguments against embalming.
The way most of the embalming
industry chooses to embalm grossly violates these guidelines and caveats.
By using traditional and archaic high index/high exposure formaldehyde
embalming, mixed with other nasty toxics, the embalming trade generates
a carcinogenic and noxious exposure hazard to the embalmer, needless
use of coverup chemicals, an environmental and disposal hazard to society,
and increased infectious risk due to poor equipment and technique during
the entire embalming operation. The result is a nullification of any
desirable results from most modern embalming operations. No wonder embalming
is viewed by modern society as needless, dangerous and ridiculous. By
embalming in a traditional, neanderthal-style with large quantities
of toxic, carcinogenic, and gas-evolving formaldehyde products, embalmers
are essentially the embalming industry’s worst enemy. And the way it
looks – I wonder if we will ever change or, instead, just choose to
rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, strike up the band and sing
some uplifting songs, compliments of our Mutual Admiration Societies?
What is that I see in the murky waters ahead? An iceberg? Nah!, can’t
be – that’s impossible – The stone tablets do not lie. Full speed ahead!!
This archaic denial attitude
is no better displayed than by the Mutual Admiration Societies expressed
“concern and worriment” about phenol/phenolics and glutieraldehyde (oops,
did I spell that wrong?) and it’s safety and exposure ramifications
for the funeral industry. Of course, in this china shop it is mandatory
that we ignore the thousand pound gaseous, toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic,
asthmatic sensitizing elephant called formaldehyde as a justifiable
necessity. Let’s just hope this “necessary elephant” does not destroy
the very china shop that it resides in. It appears, at least in Europe,
that the harvest from this untenable, archaic attitude of denial, will
be bitter, indeed. To our detriment, this self-destructive and pervasive
scenario is already starting to be played out and there appears no end
in sight. But, as always, it doesn’t have to be this way.
The Champion Company’s and
my stance has always been diametrically opposed to this obsolete embalming
model. The quest always was, and will always be, the search for safer
and saner alternatives to all the old chemicals, the old procedures
and the old equipment. To this end, Champion has made great strides
with effective alternative preservatives that deliver a fraction of
the exposures that formaldabalming does while upholding all the tenets
of embalming. And we are not done yet – on the horizon are newer, more
sophisticated and drastically reduced exposure alternatives that go
beyond what is currently in use and will completely fulfill this most
important of the tenets of embalming – enhanced overall safety for the
operator, society and the environment with a desirable temporary sanitizing
effect. The result being, an embalming that does not dejustify itself
by untoward and deleterious effects of the embalming operation itself.
The future is now, you need only to embrace it.
What about the other tenets
of embalming – preservation and restoration? There are many rankings,
analyses and permutations of the three tenets, but they all usually
go something like this. Skip to the chase – embalm’em rockhard, create
a stone statute that’s easy to move around, probably won’t go bad and
is easy to paint up with greasepaint. Sanitization and safety is trivial,
so forget about it, and natural lifelike appearance by heavy pancake
makeup (tartin’ em up?) and dim lighting will be good enough. Not too
many advocate restoration as an end-all-or-be-all, but the arguments
are essentially the same – make’em look presentable and everything else
will probably work out, besides you can always slam the lid shut if
worse comes to worse. The side corollary to this, is, of course, it’s
easier to paint a stone mask and be done with it, therefore, formaldehyde
is, of course, justified and mandatory. All the permutations devolve
to just hiding formaldehyde behind a casket veil and pretending everything
is “just alright”. Pass those stone tablets, if you will, please.
Casket veil, n., A cloaking
or obscuring device in the form of a veil, usually gossamer, placed
over an open casket to hide a multitude of sins and found in the closet
of all funeral traditionalists.
Formaldaveil, n., A special
type of casket veil, employed by the funeral industry to properly and
dignifiably cloak the appearance and reality of formaldehyde for the
benefit of traditionalist undertakers, embalmers, curious onlookers,
outside troublemakers and all of polite and apologetic funeral society.
Shortcomings and failings of formaldehyde are obliterated, supposition
and surmise substitutes for facts and reality, and formaldehyde appears
‘’as good as’’ everything else. Formaldehyde is never questioned or
discussed and, properly obscured, is justified by its very existence.
Everything appears gossamer fuzzy, murky, ill-defined and open to interpretation.
Virtually, unanimously endorsed by the funeral industry as an effective
and utilitarian device of subterfuge.
So, therefore what should
be the Modem Tenets of Embalming? In my opinion, they are as follows.
If embalming,an optional
procedure,is to be done at all,the prime directive is –first,do no harm.
Public safety therefore, takes center stage and the very act of embalming
should not pose an infectious or exposure hazard to the embalmer/operator,
society in general, the mourners/onlookers in particular and the environment
as an endpoint of disposal/residua. The temporary sanitation effect
is an additional benefit that can only moderate the infectious situation
to more manageable. Cosmetic restoration, done in moderation, enhances
the memory picture and the grieving process by invoking directed thoughts
and emotions to the very corpse itself, to confirm the farewell and
the finality of the process. Temporary preservation, the least required
and the least important of the tenets, serves to reasonably and temporarily
lengthen the timeline for the grieving/ farewell process in modem, disconnected
society to occur. Preservation serves no other purpose.
In conclusion, in spite
of what is constantly touted and taught in the funeral industry, embalming
is not justified by anything. Embalming is an optional process that,
if performed correctly, generates desirable and justifiable results.
Failure to follow the above Modem Tenets, and in their prioritized order,
results in not only an unjustified embalming, but worse, a contra-indicated
embalming that creates more problems than it solves. This is currently,
the sad state of affairs in the embalming trade, where toxic and troublesome
formaldehyde is worshipped as the end-all-and-the-be-all of embalming
and the tenets are flip-flopped and rearranged to suit the embalmers
whim. The result of classic formaldabombing, in its many permutations,
is a top-down disavowal of the Modern Tenets where the only modicum
of success is that the corpse is preserved and stays around for awhile,
sometimes a longer while.
poor or marginal ventilation, non-protective latex, timeworn procedures,
careless attitudes, use of high index/high exposure formaldehydes in
many forms, absurdities such as gasoline/chlorinated solvents/toxic
sprays, petrochemical based clown makeups, chemical overdrive by necessitation
of formaldehyde repair chemicals, disposal nightmares by massive amounts
of chemicals and incompatibilities such as bleach, etc., absurdities
such as kerosene for maggots and gasoline/hexane based dry washes, hideously
appearing rock hard/dehydrated bodies that destroy the natural lifelike
appearance and require painting up with greasepaint mortuary cosmetics
– all combine to make the embalming process needlessly dangerous, of
marginal value and ridiculous in the eyes of modern society.
By focusing on the elimination
or drastic reduction of formaldehyde and other difficult to control
toxics, and implementing lower exposure, higher impact sanitizing alternatives,
such as glutaraldehydes/phenolics in moderating amounts, the Modern
Tenets can be upheld and all desirable results of the embalming process
can be reasonably achieved. This has always been the prime emphasis
and goal of my tenure at The Champion Company. Easily 90%, or more,
of formaldehyde can be eliminated in the drop of a hat in embalming,
with no adverse effects and the result being a safer, saner, more effective
embalming. The final step toward the ultimate fulfillment of the Modern
Tenets is currently under active investigation and research by me, at
the Champion Company.
The implementation of Chemostasis
Infusion Chemicals – complex, naturally-derived, synergistic blends
of higher molecular weight mono/di/multi-aldehydes/polyphenolics and
associated cross-linkers/precipitants/ carriers that present absolutely
minimal operator/societal/environmental impacts, with an essentially
clean- sheet MSDS and generating a significant temporary sanitation
effect will achieve this goal. In addition, natural lifelike cosmetic
restoration is achieved and temporary preservation is more than sufficient
to meet the demands of modern society. No longer will there exist incompatibilities
between the embalming arts and green burials/eco-cremation/disposition
and ecologically sound alternatives to problematic, archaic chemical
embalming. The Fourth Generation of Champion Ecobalming Fluids is on
the horizon and the very face of embalming and its societal/environmental
impact will be changed forever.
Set the note as high as possible.