Maine Legislature Considering Outdoor Cremations Mar 24, 2021 11:02:06 GMT -5
Post by JoannaB on Mar 24, 2021 11:02:06 GMT -5
Maine Legislature Considering Outdoor Cremations
The Maine Legislature is considering a measure that would allow for the disposition of remains atop an outdoor funeral pyre. If adopted, Mainers would be able to choose to leave this earth like a Jedi or a Viking leader.
Those familiar with Game of Thrones and/or The Phantom Menace know a little about funeral pyres upon which human bodies are cremated on a bed of timber in an often-elaborate ceremony, a method of sending off dead loved ones still practiced, particularly among Hindus. Unfortunately, in the United States, there currently are only two locations where it’s legal, both in Colorado, and the funerals are limited to no more than a dozen per year.
The bill before the Health and Human Services Committee would allow a nonprofit that owns at least 20 acres of land to perform open-air cremations, one at the time, and scatter the ashes on said property.
For the past couple of years, one such group, Good Ground Great Beyond, formed in 2018, has been attempting to obtain permission to have outdoor funeral pyres on a 63-acre forested parcel of land in Dresden. “The intention for the land is to become a contemplative community sanctuary, scattering garden and space for open-air cremation,” the group indicates on its website. “Our mission is to gather minds and hearts together in ongoing and active support of making open-air cremation an option available to the community.”
Angela Lutzenberger, an interfaith minister who founded the organization, explained that people often become disempowered following a death and turn the details over to a funeral director instead of remaining engaged in sending off their loved ones. In a video on the group’s website, Lutzenberger, a Buddhist, says she would “dearly love to have access” to open-air cremation when her time comes, calling it a natural way to bring together earth and sky, the seen and the unseen. There are a lot of people “who would just like to have options,” she insists.
Chuck Lakin, a woodworker and green burial proponent who serves on the nonprofit’s board, added that one of the advantages is that families and friends can gather for the cremation instead of relying on a business to push a body into an incinerator and hit a button.
Open-air cremation has been discussed in other states, but so far, only Colorado has allowed such outdoor send-offs.
In Missouri, legislators passed a measure to allow open-air cremations in 2019, but Michael Parson, the state’s governor, vetoed it, saying, “The burial of our loved ones or the disposal of their remains is deeply personal and should be treated with the utmost care and respect. Without more thorough vetting to ensure that outdoor cremations can be conducted in a manner that fully disposes of the entire remains while also addressing the health and safety concerns of individuals who may be impacted nearby, I am not comfortable with allowing these types of ceremonies to be conducted in our state.”
According to Lakin, the outside funeral pyre provides a more respectful option than regular cremations. It can be beautiful, he added.
At the Colorado sites, the linen-wrapped body is placed atop a steel grate within a brick-lined hearth surrounded by concrete. Wood is then piled underneath the grate and juniper branches are laid around the corpse. Family members then light the flame, which is of religious significance among many Hindus and Buddhists.
Parson’s claim that outdoor cremations pose a hazard appears to be unfounded. In a report for the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice, Ivan Vince, an expert in combustion science, looked into the environmental and health risks associated with open-air cremations and determined there was nothing to worry about. He indicated health risks are negligible beyond 1,640 feet and even close up, the risks are no greater than those at a regular bonfire. Additionally, he concluded funeral pyres on wooded sites “would have a zero carbon footprint.”
The percentage of people in Maine who choose cremation over burial is greater than that in any other state, with approximately three-quarters of Mainers opting for cremation over burial. Green burial options without coffins and embalming of the body are also becoming popular.
A public hearing has yet to be scheduled on the proposal.
Sources: Steve Collins, The Lewiston Sun Journal, March 23, 2021; and Good Ground Great Beyond.