Do People Have to Be Embalmed When They Die?

by Melinda Hill Mendoza

Embalming is a process that keeps the dead from decomposing for a time. This is typically a part of modern, U.S. funerals, which may include a viewing of the body, followed by a funeral service and burial or cremation. No states require embalming, except for a few that require it for transporting bodies across state lines. People don't have to be embalmed when they die. It's a choice each grieving family can make in accordance to their wishes.

Embalming History

Embalming may have first started in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians had elaborate rituals around death and dying, particularly for the wealthy. The Egyptians removed and cleansed internal organs and immersed the bodies into a sodium solution to preserve the body. Romans cleaned the bodies of their dead for several days before burial, in part a practice to prevent premature burial. Embalming was utilized extensively during the Civil War, due to the high mortality and slow means of transportation, embalming allowed families to buried their dead before they decomposed. Over the 20th century, as home funerals fell out of fashion, funeral homes required embalming for services that would include a viewing of the body.

Embalming Laws

In general, embalming isn't required by law. Alabama, Alaska and New Jersey require embalming when the body is leaving their state. California, Idaho, Minnesota and Kansas require embalming when the body is being shipped by a common carrier, such as a plane or train. This is due to potential decomposition and possible spread of disease.

Reasons for Embalming

Funeral homes often require embalming for visitation and services with an open casket. Embalming restores a life-like appears to the deceased, and some feel that viewing a body helps with the grieving process. Embalming delays decomposition for a time, which is helpful if there is a significant period between death and the funeral services. Embalming is said to eliminate the spread of disease, but according to the World Health Organization, the dead aren't any more likely to spread disease than the living.

Embalming Alternatives

People that decide not to embalm loved ones can choose to directly bury the deceased without a visitation. Direct cremation is also available. Many incorporated one of these options into a home funeral, and purchase their own casket for the burial or cremation, although a casket also isn't required by law. Home funerals are legal in all states except Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska and New York.

About the Author

Melinda Hill Mendoza has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She worked as an editorial assistant for Forward Movement Publications in Cincinnati, Ohio. She wrote for several years for allmusic.com and edited and wrote a chapter for a book with Wooster Press. She graduated from Miami University in Ohio with a Bachelor of Arts in English.

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