New York became the sixth state to legalize the practice of composting human remains, a practice that has raised alarm bells among religious groups.
Legislation signed over the weekend by Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY) would add “natural organic reduction” alongside cremation and entombment as an acceptable burial method. The new law defines the practice as the “contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil” in a “structure, room, or other space” in which decomposition can occur.
New York joins Washington, Colorado, California, Oregon, and Vermont in allowing the novel burial method. Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-CA) described the process last year as “more environmentally friendly” than practices such as cremation, adding that “with climate change and sea-level rise as very real threats to our environment, this is an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere.”
Recompose, a funeral home in Seattle that has encouraged passage of “human composting” legislation across the country, says their version of the practice requires one-eighth of the energy needed in cremation or conventional burial. Staff members lay the deceased body in a “vessel surrounded by wood chips, alfalfa, and straw” for one month as bacteria catalyze “change on the molecular level, resulting in the formation of a nutrient-dense soil.” Loved ones can then use the material to “enrich conservation land, forests, or gardens.”
Religious groups have been among the most outspoken against the practice, contending that human composting subverts the dignity of the deceased. Josh Buice, the pastor of Pray’s Mill Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and the president of G3 Ministries, remarked to The Daily Wire that human composting is “in complete contradiction to the view historically held by Christians and Jews.”
“Pantheists have argued that everything can be reduced to matter, God is everything and everything is God, and that every existing entity is only one Being. Under this view, there is no difference between wood chips, alfalfa, and a human body,” he said. “From the earliest of times, the human body has been considered sacred. The rationale is based on what is known as the imago Dei, which affirms the fact that God created every person equally in his own image.”
The notion of the image of God in man serves as the ethic undergirding all other assertions regarding the infinite value of humans in the Christian worldview, according to Buice. “The whole of humanity has inestimable value and dignity before God and deserves honor, respect, and protection,” he continued. “Therefore, the sanctity of human life is not determined by sex, ethnicity, age, religion, condition, or socioeconomic status. This is the foundation from which the Christian community advocates for the protection of the preborn and opposes abortion or any form of mutilation of the human body including euthanasia and sex change surgery.”
Buice predicted that human composting will continue to be promoted by lawmakers out of a professed concern for climate change. He nevertheless contended that such practices contrast with historic Christian burial practices which, beyond honoring the deceased, serve to reflect the hope of the resurrection.
“Traditionally, pagan traditions have practiced cremation and in some cases the burning of the body as a form of sacrifice to their idol,” he said. “However, Christians have buried their loved ones with the final resurrection of the dead in view when Christ returns, the world is renewed, and death is forever banished.”