On December 26, 2021, Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed away at the age of 90. Tutu, the first Black Archbishop of Capetown, is being remembered: “for his Nobel Peace Prize-earning role in ending South Africa’s apartheid regime of racial oppression and for championing the rights of LGBTQ people.” But in addition to Tutu’s tremendous lifetime accomplishments, he is also being recognized for his choices regarding the treatment of his remains.  At his state funeral, “[h]is plain pine coffin, the cheapest available at his request to avoid any ostentatious displays, was the center of the service, which also featured African choirs, prayers, and incense.” Tutu also requested that his remains be disposed of via aquamation even though South Africa currently has no laws governing this practice. Aquamation is considered “an environmentally friendly alternative to ornate caskets and cremation by fire, which emits greenhouse gases.” Per Tutu’s request, after the funeral, “his body was liquefied under pressure, and his bones then dried to dusty ashes in an oven.

“In aquamation, a machine uses ‘a heated (sometimes pressurized) solution of water and strong alkali to dissolve tissues, yielding an effluent that can be disposed of through municipal sewer systems, and brittle bone matter that can be dried, crushed, and returned to the decedent’s family,’ . . .  The process takes three to four hours at a temperature of around 300 degrees Fahrenheit, though it can be longer if lower temperatures are used . . . By comparison, fire-based cremation takes about two hours at a temperature of 1,400 to 1,800 degrees.”

In Washington, human remains may be disposed of by aquamation, also referred to as alkaline hydrolysis. Washington only recently allowed this practice through legislation that came into effect on May 1, 2020.  Will Tutu’s decision to dispose of his remains via aquamation create more awareness here in Washington of the environmental benefits of this option? I hope so. “Aquamation’s effects on the environment are thought to be far less than those of conventional body disposition methods. Estimates suggest the process uses anywhere from one-tenth to one-seventh of the energy required for cremation.”

Would you like your Memorial Instructions to reflect a choice to use aquamation? If so, please let us know. We’d be happy to help.

This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

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