March 6, 2015

Bill to dissolve human remains defeated in Indiana House

A view of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. (File photo by Natalie Hoefer)

A view of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. (File photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Legislation allowing the use of a process to dissolve human remains as an alternative to cremation or burial was recently defeated in the House by a 59-34 vote. The Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) opposed the bill.

The legislation, House Bill 1069, would allow a process called alkaline hydrolysis to be used in Indiana, a process which is currently not authorized by law. The alkaline hydrolysis process uses chemicals to dissolve the human body. The liquefied person’s body is then drained into the sewer system. The remaining solid matter could be placed in an urn, and returned to the family.

Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the ICC, testified in opposition to the bill during a public hearing before the House Public Health Committee.

“We believe that every human being, created in the image and likeness of God, deserves dignity,” he said. Tebbe added that people deserve dignity when they are living and after death.

“Flushing the fluid remains of a person down into the sewer system does not provide, in our opinion, the dignity due the person, nor the reverence due the body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit,” Tebbe said. He added the Church questions whether having the liquid processed into the water table or through the municipal sewer system is acceptable either culturally or aesthetically. “For us it seems unnecessarily disrespectful and offensive and we respectfully oppose the bill.”

The legislation was touted by advocates as a “greener,” more environmentally-friendly process of dealing with the dead.

Corporate representative Joe Wilson of Bio-Response Solutions, Inc., explained that his Indiana-based company is one of the leading manufacturers of the equipment to provide the alkaline hydrolysis human remains decomposing process. Wilson explained the reasons the alkaline hydrolysis process is superior to cremation or burial, saying it is cheaper in the long run, easier, and less labor intensive for the funeral director.

Rep. Jeffrey Thompson, R-Lizton, author of the bill, said Wilson, a constituent of his, came to him requesting that Indiana change the law to allow the use of alkaline hydrolysis. Thompson, a retired science teacher, presented his bill on the House floor, saying he was “completely comfortable with the science” of human dissolution through the alkaline hydrolysis, but said he had talked to a few of the legislators who were “uncomfortable for religious reasons.” Thompson added, “If that’s the reason, I respect that. That’s a very valid reason to not vote for it.”

Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, chairman of the House Public Health Committee, asked lawmakers during the floor debate to support the bill. Clere said that the members of the health panel gave the bill “careful consideration,” and that the bill passed its committee by a 9-1 vote.

Clere also pointed out that the manufacturer of the alkaline hydrolysis equipment is an Indiana company creating Indiana jobs, and there is a market for this process in the U.S. and abroad.

Rep. Richard Hamm, R-Richmond, gave an emotional plea during the House debate urging the members to vote against the measure. Hamm, who has worked in the funeral business for decades, said that there have been a lot of changes in the industry over the years. He noted that currently cremation accounts for about 50 percent of the funeral business.

“When you cremate somebody, 20 percent doesn’t cremate,” said Hamm. “It must be crushed up or beat up with a hammer. Now we’re talking about we’re going to put them in acid and let them dissolve away, and then we’re going to let them run down the drain, out into the sewers? We keep going backward, and backward in taking care of supposedly the people we love.” Getting emotional, Hamm added, “You can tell I feel very passionate about this. I urge you to vote ‘no.’ ”

Shortly after Hamm’s plea, the House voted the bill down by a 59-34 margin. In addition to House Bill 1069, a similar bill dealing with alkaline hydrolysis, Senate Bill 333, failed to pass out of its Senate committee.

Tebbe said he was “surprised, but very pleased” the bill was defeated. However, he said the session is only halfway over.

“Although it is unlikely, it’s possible to resurrect a bill that has been defeated by stripping the contents of a live bill and replacing it with the alkaline hydrolysis language,” Tebbe said.

He added, “Given the unnecessarily disrespectful and offensive nature of this process to the dignity of the human person, the ICC will continue to monitor this issue.”

(For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, its Indiana Catholic Action Network and the bills it is following in the Indiana General Assembly this year, log on to Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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