With the first cutoff date quickly approaching it has been interesting to see what bills have had a quick start out of the gate. One of these has been SB 5001 – concerning humans remains. Already voted out of the Senate (passing out of Labor and Commerce and then Rules in early February), it is scheduled for hearing and executive session next week in House Consumer Protection and Business.

There are many decisions that individuals and families must make at the end of life, and there is a growing demand for “greener” end of life options. There are many laws related to how human remains may be handled, stored, and disposed of. Currently, there are only two legal ways to dispose of human remains (burial and cremation). SB 5001 would legalize two additional ways for the disposal of human remains; alkaline hydrolysis and recomposition.

The proposed additions are cheaper alternatives that could also be more environmentally friendly, and accessible to more people. For example, alkaline hydrolysis produces the same result as cremation but uses significantly less energy.

Recomposition, which is often called “green burial” or “organic burial” is a process to naturally break down remains and over time, produce soil.  Recently, WSU completed a pilot project on recomposition. Using a process similarly used for animals, a body is covered with straw and wood chips and slowly turned into soil over several weeks. The process was found to have fewer carbon emissions and use roughly one-eighth the energy of cremation. The pilot also met all safety criteria outlined by the Department of Ecology.

Proponents of the bill feel that the addition these two options will help support small businesses looking to provide new models of service. Research also supports that these options are safe options. Opponents of the bill are critical of current laws that are vague about where human remains may be scattered.

The Funeral and Cemetery Board, which enforces and administers the laws generally related to cemeteries, morgues, and human remains, and the Department of Licensing (DOL) who administers the laws would be required to add rules and regulations for these two new options as well.

It remains to be seen if this bill will pass the legislature, but as it has already passed one chamber, it will likely continue to move.

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Jaime Bodden

Jaime Bodden is the Managing Director for WSALPHO. Previously, Jaime managed and oversaw the operations of a small health department as Health Officer/Director. Additionally, Jaime has experience in community engagement, health promotion, global health, and health policy. She holds Master degrees in Social Work and Public Health from Washington University in St. Louis.
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