Abraham Lincoln funeral procession

Embalming became well known in the US when Lincoln's body was embalmed for the trip to Illinois.

Embalming, a relatively new practice in America, became common during the Civil War when it was used to preserve the bodies of dead soldiers so that they could be buried at homes far from the battlefield. The practice became well-known when President Abraham Lincoln’s body was embalmed for its formal trip from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois for burial.

Embalming has become such a common part of American funerals that many people assume that it is required by law. However, no state or province in North America automatically demands the embalming of bodies. When preservation of the body is specified by state ordinance, refrigeration, chilling or dry ice can often be substituted for embalming. Special circumstances such as an extended time between death and burial, and transportation of remains on commercial airline flights may necessitate embalming. Some religions, notably Judaism and Islam, do not allow embalming.

A Greener Path

Choosing not to embalm is a significant way to have a greener funeral. Embalming fluid is usually comprised of the carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde, which poses health risks to those who work with it. A study by the National Cancer Institute released in late 2009 revealed that funeral directors have a much higher incidence of myeloid leukemia. While an embalmed body at a funeral does not present a serious risk to the mourners, doing without embalming is another way to help eliminate the unnecessary use of harsh chemicals that are not eco-friendly.

Greener Embalming Methods

For those who choose embalming, there are now several formaldehyde-free embalming fluids that will adequately preserve the body for up to several weeks. The sanitation and preservation of a body can almost always take place without the use of chemicals, as is done in most nations in the world.