More Than Meets the Eye, True Stories about Death, Dying, and Afterlife covers many aspects of the dying and grieving process and sheds light on euthanasia, suicide, near-death experience, and spirit visits after the passing of a loved one. ___________________________________________

Monday, December 8, 2008

When did the practice of embalming begin?

In the United States, Modern embalming started during the Civil War when President Lincoln directed the Quartermaster Corps to use embalming when returning bodies to their home towns for proper burial. Dr. Thomas Holmes, captain in the Army Medical Corps, embalmed over 4,000 soldiers and officers during the war. Realizing the commercial potential, Holmes resigned his commission and began offering embalming to the public for $100. However, the practice did not become common until the turn of the century. It was then that a person, who would undertake to manage all funeral details and provide funeral merchandise, became known as an "undertaker." Funeral services became a business that attracted representatives from embalming fluid companies. These representatives would travel the country selling embalming fluids (mostly formaldehyde) and teaching about the use of their product. 

Embalming gave ample time to arrange and prepare for the funeral and has therefore remained an acceptable and desirable method of post-mortem treatment in the United States and Canada. Embalming forms the foundation for funeral service business; but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, it offers no public health benefit. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires embalmers to wear a respirator and full-body covering while embalming; however, the release of contaminated blood and highly toxic chemicals used in the process are not regulated by any governmental agency and are commonly dumped into our sewer systems. Hawaii and Ontario forbid embalming if the person died of certain contagious diseases. Embalming is an expensive and physically invasive process in which special devices are implanted, and chemicals and dyes are used to give a restful appearance. While it prevents the body from returning to its natural elements quickly and naturally, it does not postpone decomposition indefinitely. Refrigeration will effectively maintain a body while awaiting a public funeral service or private home viewing by family members and close friends. While not all funeral homes have refrigeration facilities, most hospitals do. Many funeral directors will not allow public viewing of a body without embalming and cosmetic restoration because they consider seeing "a beautiful memory picture," as it's called in the trade, a necessary part of the grieving process. Yet, many people consider viewing a dead body a negative experience. According to the personal opinion of author, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book, Questions and Answers on Death and Dying, it may give the illusion that the deceased is only asleep which may actually prolong the stage of denial.

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