NY bill would let corpses be used for composting

ALBANY -- Human remains in New York could literally be used for pushing up daisies under proposed legislation that would let corpses be used for composting.

The measure, introduced in both the Assembly and the Senate, is already drawing the outrage of New York's Roman Catholic bishops, however.

Their lobby organization, the New York State Catholic Conference, said in a statement Friday it strongly opposes the composting of human remains. The group said it is "essential the body of a deceased person be treated with reverence and respect."

A prime sponsor of the measure, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, said she was surprised by the bishops' reaction. She noted she hopes to meet with the bishops soon to explain the proposal.

"We will see if they still have opposition once they have a clearer understanding of what this is," Paulin told CNHI.

New York would become the nation's second state to allow the composting of human remains should the measure be approved. In the state of Washington, the nation's first human composting facility, dubbed Recompose, is slated to open in May.

The company behind the operation describes the process as "natural organic reduction," with bodies turned to soil in about 30 days after being covered with wood chips and aerated while inside a hexagonal "recomposition vessel."

Paulin said she believes many New Yorkers who favor environmental sustainability will want to consider composting as an alternative to traditional burials or cremations.

"This is cleaner and greener, and I think it's in line with many religious practices," the veteran lawmaker said.

The Catholic leaders disagreed that the public will accept the proposal.

"We understand that not everyone shares the Catholic Church's teachings with regard to the reverence and respect for human remains," the Catholic Conference said. "But we do not think the public, or at least the portion of the public that visits their deceased loved ones in cemeteries, are prepared for this proposed composting/fertilizing method."

Advocates for human composting in Washington suggest the composting method is less energy intensive than cremation and avoids the potential impacts from burying embalmed corpses in wooden boxes. Recompose estimates the cost of composting a corpse will run about $5,500.

The New York proposal would require that composting facilities be subject to inspections from the state Division of Cemeteries. Records would have to be maintained for each corpse transformed into compost, according to the measure.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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