Is embalming necessary?

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Of all the processes and procedures associated with the treatment of a body after death and before a funeral, embalming is the least understood by the general public. 

This guide explains what embalming is (often referred to as 'hygienic treatment'), and why you might consider it for your body after death.

Who is this guide for? 

  • Anyone who wants to know what embalming is
  • Anyone unsure if embalming is necessary
  • Anyone who is thinking about their body being visited by family and friends after they die

Reading time:

 3 mins


What is embalming?

Put simply, embalming is a way of preserving a body’s ‘life-like’ appearance after death and slowing down the natural process of decomposition. 

Is embalming mandatory?

No, embalming is not mandatory.  Your loved ones can still touch you and kiss you as they say their goodbyes if you aren't embalmed.  But there are a couple of exceptions:

  • If you die with a communicable disease you will be embalmed to protect the health of others.
  • If you are to be repatriated overseas. 

The cost charged by a funeral directors today for embalming is around £120.

Why might I choose to be embalmed?

It can be both a practical and an aesthetic choice.

Embalming not only improves the condition of your body after death temporarily giving you a ‘relaxed’ appearance, it can also restore colour tone to your skin.   If you look much like you used to when you were alive, this of course can considerably improve the experience for loved ones should they want to visit you before the funeral.  

4 reasons why you might choose not to be embalmed?

1

Embalming is an invasive procedure.   A chemical solution is introduced into your body.    No internal organs are removed for this process.  

2

There is a possibility that embalming may not restore the skin tone to the one you had in life. (You could end up looking like you have just come back from a two-week Caribbean holiday, when your normal pallor is akin to having taken a weekend break in Skegness ).  And some people notice a ‘chemical odour’ around an embalmed body.  Both of these potential side-effects can cause additional distress to loved ones at a time when they are already coping with their loss.

3

You may choose not be embalmed on religious grounds.  Both Judaism and Islam prohibit the practice of embalming, unless it is a legal requirement. Other religions have a neutral stance.

4

If you are planning on having a green burial, you need to be aware that natural woodland and meadow burial grounds will not normally accept embalmed bodies, due to the toxicity of the chemicals used and the harm it can cause the surrounding ecosystem. 

Embalming is a sensitive subject that some people feel uncomfortable discussing. However, if you have specific questions or would like to know more about it, we suggest you contact The British Institute of Embalmers.

Useful RESOURCES

For more information on embalming, contact The British Institute of Embalmers   

  01564 778991      

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About the Author

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Derek Thompson is a writer and author, who has written extensively about grief and the funeral industry. He thinks humour is a much-underrated commodity. And thanks to a mix-up, when his name was read out during a committal, instead of his brother’s, he has technically been to his own funeral.


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