The need for a national corpse deposit has never been greater. Corpses are everywhere, filling up graveyards and self-storage units across the land. And instead of utilizing these abundant resources, we are wasting them.
Humans have never been comfortable dealing with corpses. Usually we stick them in the ground, or burn them in crematories or funeral pyres. It is estimated that, in just chemical elements alone, an average-sized human corpse has a street value ranging from $5 to $160. But that is only the beginning. Factoring in the growing global markets for bone marrow, DNA, antibodies, egg cells, and replacement organs, a corpse could easily have a net worth in the millions. Yet each year, billions of dollars’ worth of corpses are rotting or going up in smoke.
While it might sound insensitive to think of recently deceased Uncle Fred as a source of ready cash, hard economic times require tough decisions. These days almost anything can be recycled: batteries, roof shingles, BBQ grills, cellphones, bottle caps, pizza boxes, packing peanuts, bread twist ties, shower curtains, water filters, wine corks, used appliances, screen doors, VHS tapes, and even flip flops. If we can recycle flip flops, surely we can find ways to recycle a few bodies. But as in any economic endeavor, there need to be creative incentives to make it more attractive to the consumer. Otherwise, Uncle Fred will just end up in a hole.
But isn’t burial a kind of recycling—ashes to ashes and all that? While it is true that human remains do decompose with time and return their chemical building blocks to the earth, the manner in which this accomplished is highly wasteful. Unlike our early ancestors, who reverentially planted their deceased into shallow graves in direct contact with the living earth, we moderns erect all kinds of barriers to this natural process. We inject the bodies of our loved ones with preservatives. We adorn them in fancy clothes fit for the theatre, surround them with soft cushions, then enclose them in an expensive thick casket, and all for what? To delay the inevitable, which is simply to rot in the ground. Not only is this a waste of materials, it is a waste of space. Think of the millions of acres of graveyards—filled with bodies in delayed states of decomposition—land that could be put to more productive use as malls, golf courses, or amusement parks. Though some see cremation as a solution (while ignoring the new problem of what to do with that urn of ashes), there is still the issue of air pollution, not to mention the burning of fossil fuels just to create a smaller package of human remains.
This is why a national corpse deposit makes sense today as never before. It offers a cradle to grave solution to one of our most vexing problems: what to do with ourselves when we’re dead. The beauty is that we could still go on venerating our beloved ancestors while benefiting from the resources they leave behind.
A corpse deposit could be modeled after one of the so-called bottle bills (or container deposit laws) currently in effect in ten states. These have proven to be an effective, sustainable method of capturing and recycling beverage bottles and cans for recycling. The basic idea behind these laws is to provide a monetary incentive in the form of a refund (usually between five and ten cents per bottle or can) when the container is returned. Of course, considering the greater value of our human containers, a much higher refund value would have to be set on corpses in order to encourage higher rates of participation.
Though some might argue for individual state corpse deposits, I think this is an issue best handled at the national level; otherwise we risk unseemly corpse trafficking across state lines to the highest bidder. Perhaps someday we’ll have vast recycling centers where we can conveniently drop off the corpse and collect the deposit. They could be set up like department stores so that you could pick up a few items on your way out. In addition to the deposit, maybe they could throw in a free toaster or other small appliance. Young people just starting out and looking to buy a new home or car might apply for a small loan based on the collateral of their own future deposits. Think of all that money being put to good use by needy families across the land while stimulating the economy. I think Uncle Fred would be pleased. ©Gene Twaronite 2013
Originally published in 5enses, October 2013 http://www.5ensesmag.com/every-bodys-part/