Monday, May 21, 2007

The Sanctity of Death

I'm not sure I understand some people's obsession with ensuring the respectful treatment of bodies post death. While I agree that bodies should not be treated willy-nilly, dumped and degraded, I also believe that people should be able to do with their bodies what they see fit. I don't see how individuals' views that this form of...well...body "trivial, disrespectful and voyeuristic" should be of concern when I make my arrangements.

Honestly, I don't see how this is any more disrespectful than draining all the blood out of someone, pumping them with toxins, locking them into a little box, and then digging a hole six feet in the ground and throwing them in it to be slowly eaten and dissolved.

Is that really better? I'm just saying...

As for "trivial, disrespectful and voyeuristic", my thoughts are these:

If it is so trivial, why care?

I've already addressed the disrespectful aspect.

And voyeuristic? Heck yes it's voyeuristic! But I think more than anything it's curiosity. Death is a natural human fear and it's only natural to be curious about it. Some people choose to confront their fears by facing them (literally, in this case), to learn about them; and some people (like my mom) choose to turn a blind eye to them...hoping that, you know, death won't really happen to them.

From the USA Today article I linked to above, a lady is quoted saying that her "major objection stems from the belief that there's an innate dignity to humans that extends to our bodies. Anything that denigrates our bodies by commercializing them I'm opposed to."

An "innate dignity to humans that extends to our bodies"? I hate to think that this is true, but I feel that a lot of times, people are treated better and are more highly revered in death than they are in life. Before we can say that there is an "innate dignity to humans that extends to our bodies" why don't we try treating people with dignity and respect while they are actually living?

To end my argument, another lady is quoted stating why she has chosen to donate her body to plastination:

"The body is just a vessel. This is just what I have in this life."

Sums it up pretty good, I think.

What are your thoughts?

Degradation, disrespect?

Also, as an aside, if you are interested in this or have morbid curiosity, you should read the book Stiff by Mary Roach. It's an awesome and hilarious read.


Jim Gibb said...

This reminds me of a couple of comedians who have hit on the subject.

Louis CK basically says, I don't care what happens to my body, cause I can't. I'm dead. He goes on to suggest donating his body to a bunch of necrophiliacs.

Nick Swordson, on the other hand, has an interesting idea for his closed-casket funeral:

"And people will think my body will be in the coffin, but it won't be. My body will drop down on wires...then hit it with a strobe light and techno music."

That would be pretty awesome. And for the record, I think this plasticizing stuff is great. That soccer player is amazing looking. And in my eyes, there is nothing more disrespectful and voyeuristic that having to look at someone's fake-looking, primped up corpse in an open casket.

Sarah Ashlee said...

You know, that's very true. Funerals themselves are very voyeuristic. I didn't even think about that...mainly because I never want to go look at someone who vaguely resembles my loved one. I did a persuasive speech my freshman year of college on plastination and I believe that's when my morbid curiosity was first peaked. It is awesome - not sure that it's for me and my body - but it's certainly an intriguing option.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I can't let a wrong factoid go uncorrected.

I believe (read: I know) the comedian who suggested donating his body to necrophiliacs was David Cross. Unless he stole his material from Louis CK, which everyone does.

Secondly, I'm sure that lady who is against the "commercialization" of the human body wouldn't object if that mass of muscle and bone had David Beckham's skin attached and was wearing a pair of Nike Shorts. (I certainly wouldn't.)

On the other hand, I think it's valid to raise some objections as (from what I've read) most of these people are unclaimed bodies from China. There is something a little odd about skinning, filleting and then posing an impoverished farmer who dropped dead in a fetid rice paddy in an extreme-sports skateboarding pose, when he probably never signed the waiver giving to go-ahead.

If my plasticized body could be used to correct any mistaken factoid, however, I'd gladly sign the waiver. In death, as in life.

Jim Gibb said...

Yeah, it was David Cross. I couldn't remember and ventured a guess. So hard to keep these people straight. Nice to have editors on my trail.

Actually, I knew shockingly little about this process. Unclaimed bodies from China aside, I must say that I share Mr. Cross's general sentiment. There is nothing sacred or reverential about the dead human body. I can't imagine caring at all what happens to anyone's corpse. That's no excuse for stealing bodies for the sake of art, but...oh wait, yes it is.

Sarah Ashlee said...

From my un-extensive research it is not the founder of plastination who uses the unclaimed bodies from China:

"...It should be known that where Dr. von Hagens [the founder of plastination] uses only donated bodies his protégé Dr. Hongjin uses unclaimed bodies from Chinese mental hospitals, along with other bodies that were not able to be properly buried."

Also - Dr. von Hagens has a list of over 7,000 individuals willing to donate their bodies to be displayed in one of his exhibits or in laboratories for research. I highly doubt he needs to use the unwilling.

Anonymous said...

All true. Whether they're using volunteers or not, we're just looking at hunks of meat. Whatever it is that makes humans sacred or reverential, long since floated away on that fateful day in the fetid rice paddy. (And I really only raised any objection because I wanted to write "fetid rice paddy" and "extreme-sports skateboarding pose" in the same sentence. Thanks for humoring me.)

Once that goes, you are essentially left with nothing but a work of art, because that's what the human body inherently is. (That's what I tell myself every day while brushing my hair and mouthing the words to Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful.") And works of art belong where? In a museum kicking soccer balls, naturally.

Matthew said...

When you're dead, that's it. Show's over, at least here on Earth in the eyes of most people. My mother does not want a wake or funeral or anything of the like. Her opinion is that why should she give everyone (especially most of our extended family) who did wrong to her in life a chance to apologize to a corpse to make themselves feel better? If you weren't "right" with her in life, you don't get a second chance. My mother's final wishes:

Should all of the immediate family NOT be present with her at her death, there will be a brief viewing of the body before cremation. This means myself, my siblings, and her husband if she should predecease him. Simply a chance to gather to say "goodbye" (even though we all know it's just her corpse). Then, she will be cremated. Her ashes will be put in a nondescript conveyance and placed in the possession of her friend. Her friend will proceed to Wal-Mart and place them in the kid's seat of a shopping cart. Said shopping cart will be wheeled around the aisles containing the clearance merchandise (very important aspect - my mother loves clearance shopping). Then, her friend will retire to the lavatory with my mother's ashes and flush them down the toilet.
Quoth my mother... "If most people shit on me during life, why should death be any different?"

I rather like her plan. :) My mom rocks.