A dead body: cremation, burial, and donation options


When most people think about what will happen to their body after they pass away, two main options tend to come to mind: being buried or being cremated. In reality, it's a bit more complex than that. There are seemingly endless options when it comes to what can happen to your body after you die—and while it may not be the most enjoyable thing to think about, it's a good idea to know exactly what you want so you can document your wishes and have them carried out properly when your time eventually comes.

As you consider what you may want to be done with your body after your passing, consider these five common choices as a starting point. Once you have a better idea of what each one entails, along with the potential benefits and drawbacks of each, you can ultimately make an informed choice regarding what's best for you.

1. Donation to Science

Many people choose to donate their bodies to science, and for good reason. For starters, by donating your body, you can enjoy the peace of mind in knowing that your body will be used for the "greater good" for many years to come. Who knows? Your donation could eventually play part in the discovery of a cure to a disease or be used to train future doctors and surgeons. Either way, there is an altruistic advantage of donating your body to science.

When you donate your body to science, you can also lessen the financial burden on your loved ones of a traditional funeral and/or burial service. That's because the donor program will typically cover the responsibilities and costs related to eventually burying or cremating the body—and most will return cremated remains to your family and loved ones afterward as well.

If you're thinking about donating your body to science, it's important to understand that not all donations are accepted. Some programs will be unable to accept bodies that have passed away under certain circumstances. This is why it's important to have a back-up plan in place in the event that your donation is unable to be accepted. 

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2. Traditional Burial

Traditional burial is what many people are guided towards by a funeral home. This option involves preservation of the body using embalming fluids, as well as a casket burial inside a cement vault underground. Many people in the US opt for a traditional burial because it is the standard choice among many Western religions and cultures. Some people appreciate having a physical gravesite that serves as a permanent memorial they can return to for decades to come.

On the other hand, a traditional burial is also one of the more expensive options out there. And for those with a lot of out-of-town family and loved ones, the logistics involved in planning a traditional burial around everybody's schedule may be incredibly difficult.

3. Natural/Green Burial

For those who are interested in a burial but not the use of embalming chemicals or concrete vaults, a natural or green burial may be a better option. With a natural burial, there is no use of embalming fluids to preserve the bod.  The body is buried direct in the soil within an eco-friendly casket, container, or burial shroud (rather than encased in a concrete vault underground).

There are many reasons to consider a natural burial. For starters, many people feel better about the footprint they leave on the environment when they forego the use of embalming chemicals, traditional caskets, and the like. Green burials are much more environmentally friendly while still providing many of the same benefits (gathering, a burial service, and closure) of a traditional funeral and burial.

Because the embalming services can be costly, a natural burial can significantly cut down on funeral and burial costs. The less expensive materials (biodegradable caskets/shrouds vs.heavy metals and hardwoods caskets) involved in a natural burial also tend to make it more affordable. Learn more about natural burial options.

» MORE: Your family has 500 hours of work to do after you die. Learn how to make it easier.

4. Flame Cremation

For those who don't want to donate their bodies to science but also don't want to be buried, there is always the option of cremation. What many people don't realize, however, is that there are two different types of cremation: flame cremation and alkaline hydrolysis.

With a traditional flame cremation, a body is reduced to bone fragments and skeletal remains through the use of a large heating chamber. In general, cremation is less expensive than a traditional burial and is also considered more environmentally friendly, since there is no use of embalming chemicals or land. There are, however, carbon emissions from this process. Many also enjoy the fact that a memorial service can still be held after cremation. Cremains can be buried,  distributed to loved ones in urns or jewelry urns, or scattered somewhere meaningful. There's actually a number of unique things you can do with ashes that reflect the passions and interest of the deceased.  Learn more about cremation options.

5. Alkaline Hydrolysis Cremation

Another cremation option to consider is known as alkaline hydrolysis, which also reduces a body to skeletal remains and bone fragments—but without the use of extreme heat or carbon emissions. Instead, this greener process involves the use of water and chemicals in a pressurized chamber to decompose the body over the course of a few hours. People opt for this form of cremation because it is more like the natural process of decomposition, without the carbon emissions of traditional cremation. It should be noted that this form of cremation is not widely-available everywhere, so you should do a search on the web to see if there are any crematories in your area that offer this type of cremation.   

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Know What You Want? Tell Your Family!

These are just a handful of some of the most common options to consider when deciding what you want to be done with your body after you pass away. If you know what you want, make sure you tell your family. Even if you're healthy and young. We never know how much time we have; these decisions can be immensely helpful to your family someday.  

Cake can help you proactively plan for all types of end-of-life decisions.  Create and store important documents that express your final wishes, then share access to your end-of-life documents with your loved ones. It's easy to update your plan as life changes.  Create your Cake free plan to get started today!


  1. Bish, Joe. "What Happens When You Donate Your Body to Science?" Vice. 15 October 2015. www.vice.com/en_us/article/5gja3z/the-important-process-of-donating-your-body-to-medical-science-020
  2. Campbell, Hayley. "A New Way to Dispose of Corpses--With Chemistry!" Wired. 27 March 2018. www.wired.com/story/alkaline-hydrolysis-liquid-biocremation/
  3. Trimarchi, Maria. "How Natural Burial Works." How Stuff Works. 15 January 2009. science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/natural-burial.htm

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