Liquid cremation — alkaline hydrolysis

The Fight to Legalize a Machine That Melts Flesh From Bone…

WALTER WHITE GOT it all wrong. If you want to chemically dissolve a body, as the Breaking Bad protagonist ordered his partner Jesse Pinkman to early in the series, you don’t just dump it in a bathtub full of acid. “They should have used an alkaline, like potassium hydroxide,” says Samantha Seiber, vice president of research at Bio-Response Solutions. On the show, the body dissolved in a few days. “In real life that method would have taken months, without heat, without water circulation,” she says. “Watching that was extremely frustrating to me.” That’s because getting rid of bodies is Seiber’s family business.

Bio-Response, based in Danville, Indiana, specializes in building machines for liquid cremation, a fast, environmentally-friendly, and controversial method for disposing of the deceased. Only a handful of states have legalized the practice. The latest battle is taking place in Nevada, where yesterday the state’s legislature held a hearing to discuss AB205, a bill that would legalize the chemical dissolution of the dead. Liquid cremation’s biggest opponents are typically religious groups, who believe uninhabited corporeal vessels ought not be liquefied and sent spiraling down a drain. Which is a fair, if oversimplified interpretation, of how this process actually works.

Liquid cremation—or, as folks in the biz call it, alkaline hydrolysis—originated in the late 1800s as a way to turn dead livestock into plant food. A century later, a pair of researchers at Albany Medical College adapted the process to liquefy human remains. Early adopters included large research facilities seeking a quick, clean way to get rid of donated cadavers that had, uh, outlived their usefulness. The University of Florida installed the first system 22 years ago. But with legal opposition from heavyweights like the Catholic Church, only 13 states have legalized the practice so far.

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