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Views sought on water cremations

By David Porter

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An alkaline hydrolysis chamber.
An alkaline hydrolysis chamber.

The public is being asked for views on alkaline hydrolysis (water cremations), burials, funeral director licensing and funeral sector inspections in four separate public consultations.

The regulations proposed in the consultations aim to protect the dignity of the deceased and increase confidence in the funeral sector by ensuring minimum standards of good care and services are maintained.

Responses to the consultation on the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill showed there was public support for the introduction of new, environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional burial or cremation in Scotland.

Alkaline hydrolysis is already in use in other countries, such as Ireland, Canada and USA.

This consultation sets out the safeguards which would be put in place to ensure alkaline hydrolysis would be subject to the same high standards as burial and cremation.

Public Health Minister Jenni Minto said: “Bereavement can be emotionally overwhelming and being able to engage with the practical issues and funeral arrangements can be very difficult.

“However, it is something everyone is likely to experience at some stage in their life, whether it's the death of a family member, a loved one, or a friend.

“Having confidence in the care and dignity given to our loved ones, along with the compassionate and professional treatment of those bereaved, can go some way to alleviating that distress. The rare instances where this does not happen satisfactorily can have long-standing impacts on people.

“This is why we need to ensure we get the right policy and legal frameworks in place and I urge anyone with views on the issues in these consultations to take the time to respond.”

National Association of Funeral Directors Scotland President Mark Shaw said: “The National Association of Funeral Directors is delighted to welcome and support the public consultations into key areas that will help shape the funeral sector in a new, regulated landscape.

"These new regulations designed to support the oversight of standards in the funeral sector will provide reassurance and security to bereaved people and funeral directors, while the proposed introduction of alkaline hydrolysis, or water cremation, is a step froward in offering future alternatives to burial and cremation.

"These are incredibly important next steps to support bereaved people, and we urge everyone to have their say.”

Water cremation uses hot water with the addition of a chemical called potassium hydroxide, or sodium hydroxide (also known as lye, or caustic soda – both used to make soap), or a mix of both.

These dissolve fats and tissues into liquid.

At a bio-cremation, the person’s body (but not their coffin) is placed into a stainless steel cremation chamber – like an outsized casket – which is filled with 95 per cent hot water and 5 per cent potassium/sodium hydroxide solution.

Essentially, the process mimics and speeds up what occurs to a body naturally when someone is buried, as the body’s cells are broken down into water.

It can take around eight to 12 years for the body of someone who had a traditional burial to decompose.

A water cremation takes around four hours and has been described as a ‘gentler’ option for the bereaved to consider.

Green cremation does not destroy a person’s bones.

These are placed in a cremulator and turned into ash, which can be scattered, kept in an urn, or used in memorial jewellery and other keepsakes.

The consultations close on November 17.

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