A main question for those planning the funerals of themselves or loved ones is pretty basic: Cremation or burial? But a feature at Wired explains that a third choice might become the norm in the not-too-distant future: dissolution. OK, the actual term is still in play, but it refers to a process known as alkaline hydrolysis that essentially dissolves the body, or most of it. The story begins with a visit to the "Resomator" at UCLA and a detailed description of what's happening inside the device as potassium hydroxide is mixed with water heated to about 300 degrees. "A biochemical reaction is taking place and the flesh is melting off the bones," writes Hayley Campbell. "Over the course of up to four hours, the strong alkaline base causes everything but the skeleton to break down to the original components that built it: sugar, salt, peptides and amino acids."
But the story isn't just a science lesson. It runs through the history of embalming and cremation and the problems associated with both, along with the single biggest hurdle to getting alkaline hydrolysis to go mainstream: opposition from the behemoth funeral industry, which is worried about fundamental changes to its profitable industry. The heavyweights "set up billion-dollar models to sell you a casket, to give you a ride to the cemetery in that hearse, to sell you the cemetery plot, to put up the marker," says UCLA's Dean Fisher. "And they don't want to compete against something that costs $45 a cycle." Still, the process is legal in 14 states already, though laws are sometimes murky on whether it qualifies as a category of cremation or as an entirely new process. Click for the full story. (Read more Longform stories.)