Watching Grandma Circle the Drain

Alkaline hydrolysis: the latest way to get rid of a dead body

Up until recently, you only had two choices. You could bury Grandma in a casket or cremate her. Both cost a lot of money and take weeks of planning. Or, if money’s tight, you could always drive into the middle of the desert in the dead of night, dig a hole by the glow of your car’s headlights and toss Grammy in — sort of the Home Depot approach to traditional funeral services. It’s done all the time — at least in gangster movies.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, funerals can cost between $6,500 and $10,000. Cremations can be significantly cheaper, at $800. But then, there’s that nagging question of what to do with those messy ashes. Do I keep them in an urn on top of the mantel or do I put them in a box out in the shed? And, who gets to keep them? What if I lose them?

Sixteen years ago, scientists came up with an alternative way to deal with human remains after a person’s passing. The process is called alkaline hydrolysis and involves sprinkling the body with a highly alkaline product, such as lye, then subjecting the corpse to high temperatures and pressure in a specially designed cooker. After several hours of bubbling and gurgling, Grammy is reduced to the consistency of motor oil, with a few bone chips thrown in. Because the liquid is sterile, it can be safely poured down the drain, into the gutter or sprayed over your lawn. For the sentimental, the hydrolysis engineers can capture dried bones and other residue and store them in an urn, or a small container worn around your neck. That way, Grammy will never be too far away — even after she’s gone.

While the process of alkaline hydrolysis may seem like a morbid way to end a loved one’s life, it’s been around for years — it’s the gangster’s first choice for eliminating snitches, backstabbers and turncoats because it’s so easy. Just dump Larry the Lump into an empty ditch and cover him with lye. Over time, Larry’s body decomposes without the dangerous emissions of carbon dioxide, toxic chemicals — or fingerprints.

Even though it’s been around for quite some time, alkaline hydrolysis is usually a tough sell to grieving families. There’s just something uncomfortable about saying good-bye to Grandma as she circles the drain. The other problem is that alkaline hydrolysis is only legal in two states: Minnesota and New Hampshire. Other states, including Ohio, California, Florida, Maine and Oregon have legislation pending. So, if hydrolysis appeals to you, you’ll have to be sure that you include in your last will and testament, instructions for someone to drive you over the border. There are strict rules about transporting fruit, firearms and dead bodies across state lines, so you might want to check with authorities first — or stash the body in the trunk under the spare tire.

Despite its simplicity, the Roman Catholic Church has yet to climb on board the bandwagon. Patrick McGee, the spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Church Diocese of Manchester, NH states, “We believe this process which enables a portion of human remains to be flushed down a drain, to be undignified.” But, George Carlson, the Industrial Waste Manager of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services defends hydrolysis by saying, “Things the public might find more troubling routinely flow into sewage treatment plants in the U.S. all the time. That includes blood and spillover embalming fluid from funeral homes.”

When it comes to supporting alkaline hydrolysis for disposing of human remains, no one is more vocal than Brad Cain, President of BioSafe Engineering. BioSafe is the company that manufactures the unique steel containers used in alkaline hydrolysis and estimates that over 50 companies, including veterinary schools, pharmaceutical companies, universities and the United States Government are already using his products to dispose of animal carcasses, medical cadavers and other forms of human waste.

If time is running out for you or your loved ones and you’re interested in using alkaline hydrolysis as the final goodbye, you may have to plan a bit. At the current time, there are only two facilities in the United States that will take Grandma in: the University of Florida in Gainesville and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Both offer their research facilities to the public and business is booming. People are just dying to get in.

Allen Smith is an award-winning writer living in Oceanside, California and has published thousands of articles for print, the web and social media.