‘We must remember man is body and soul’: ‘Boil in the bag’ funeral language is ‘terrible’, says leading Anglican layman

July 3, 2023, 16:05 | Updated: July 4, 2023, 07:22

'Boil in a bag' funeral parlance is 'terrible' says Dr Ros Clarke

‘Boil in a bag’ funeral parlance is ‘terrible’ says Dr Ros Clarke.

Image: Handout/Alami/Getty


Funeral language ‘boiling in a bag’ is “terrible”, said a member of the Church of England’s legislature.

News emerged over the weekend that a more environmentally friendly alternative to cremation, in which bodies are dissolved in 160C water treated with alkalis, will likely be legal in the UK later this year.

Co-Op Funeralcare, the UK’s largest funeral provider, will start offering a service called resomation.

The Aquarium, a company that builds equipment that dissolves the dead, leads on an environmental note – using the marketing slogan, “why would your last act on earth be to pollute it?” on the website.

Dr Ros Clarke, associate director of Church Society, an evangelical Church of England charity, told LBC she had no particular problem with the process itself – but rejected the idea that the body is separate from the person.

Dr Ros Clarke

Dr Ros Clarke.

Image: Leaflet


Dr Clarke, who is also a lay member of the General Synod of the Church of England, said the Aquatorium’s green-focused slogan suggested “a very low-key view of what the body is and why it matters.”

He said: “I have no moral objection to this method [of disposing of a dead body] but my concern is that the way things are done is still treating the body as a human body – not just a collection of cells.”

Dr Clarke, who wrote a book called Man about the Christian idea that humans are made in God’s image, says that for members of his religion, humans are “body and soul”, not just “matter”.

He added that the ‘boil in the bag’ language that had been used in the media, following the example of the BBC series Years and Years, was “horrific”.

Resomation will be offered in the UK starting this year

Resomation will be offered in the UK starting this year.

Image: Getty


“Reducing someone to something is completely inappropriate,” says Dr Clarke.

Resomation – also known as water cremation or alkaline hydrolysis – consists of a corpse being wrapped in a biodegradable bag, then placed in a vessel filled with pressurized water and a small amount of potassium hydroxide.

It rapidly converts tissues and cells into a micromolecular aqueous solution, with one cycle taking about four hours.

The soft bone remains and is dried then reduced to a white powder, which can then be returned to relatives in an urn.

Resomization is a more sustainable option as it does not release toxic gases, polluting air or polluting fluids.

Resomation could be introduced to the UK later this year

Resomation could be introduced to the UK later this year.

Image: Nature


Cremating the body causes the release of carbon dioxide and potentially toxic gases while burial can pose a risk of groundwater contamination.

The co-op, which organizes more than 93,000 funerals annually, said it would work closely with sustainability experts and academics to further validate existing research during initial regional pilots.

It said a pilot location would be announced later this year with a view to extending the service to all Co-op clients.

The practice is growing in popularity in most US states, Canada and South Africa, but gas burial or cremation remain the two options for British families.

Anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died in 2021, was the most high-profile figure to choose a resom for his own funeral.

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the most famous figure to choose a resomation for his own funeral

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the most famous figure to choose a resomation for his own funeral.

Image: Nature


Its introduction in the UK will mark the first time in more than 120 years that a new alternative to burial or cremation will be widely available for funerals since the introduction of the Cremation Act in 1902.

A YouGov poll conducted by the Funeralcare Co-op found that 89% of UK adults had never heard of resomification, but after it was explained, almost a third said they would choose it for their own funeral if it were available.

Additionally, nearly a fifth of adults who have arranged a funeral in the last five years say they would consider a resom for their loved one’s funeral if it had been an option at the time.

Professor Douglas Davies, an anthropologist, theologian and expert on death rites at the University of Durham, said: “Increasing concern for ecology and sustainability over the past decades combined with a desire to be part of nature or rest in natural surroundings, has meant more and more people are considering the environmental impact of their bodies once they die.

“The reduced carbon footprint that may come with Resomation compared to other forms of body disposal, means it will no doubt appeal to a wide range of people as the practice becomes more widely available in the UK.

Co-op funeral services is set to start offering services

Co-op funeral services is set to start offering services.

Image: Nature


Gill Stewart, managing director of Co-op Funeralcare said introducing “innovative and sustainable options” for clients was an “absolute priority”.

“Until now the options were limited to burial or cremation,” he said.

“We’ve seen from the rapid use of newer funeral options like in-person cremation, that when choice in the burial market expands, this is only a positive thing both for the bereaved and for those planning their own farewell.”

Julian Atkinson, director of remedial services Kindly Earth, added: “In my 30 years involved in the funeral industry, I have always been passionate about people having access to more sustainable end-of-life settings, and we are encouraged to see that many members of the public are waking up to this. reduce carbon footprint, even after death.”


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