Although death is usually associated with a life ending, new technologies can now use death in order to save or improve lives. This is done through organ transplant, and body donation is a key part of the process. Technologies in the field are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and the number of organs that can be transplanted grows every day. In fact, the day before class I had come across a news article announcing the first successful penis transplant. The procedure was not only novel from a medical standpoint alone, but also from an ethical one as the excerpt from this article shows:
Dr. Graewe noted that finding a donor for the procedure was a major challenge. While locating a cadaver with matching blood type and skin color was similar in process to other transplant operations, doctors struggled to convince donor families to grant their abnormal request.
“To ask for a kidney or a heart, that’s common,” he remarked. “But to ask someone for a penis is entirely new.”
The family that finally consented to the necessary donation did so on the condition that doctors reconstruct a new penis on the deceased’s body after they removed his organ, which they did with tissue from his abdomen.
“It was so he wouldn’t be buried without a penis,” said Dr. Graewe.
I thought it was very interesting that the family thought it was important for his penis to be reconstructed so that he could be buried “whole.” As we have discussed at length in previous articles, our concept of what constitutes dignity in death is constantly changing.
The world at large is seeing green these days, even when it comes to the funeral business. Green burial is where most of the really interesting innovations in the industry are taking place. You have processes like promession, in which a body is freeze-dried and disintegrated using vibration; resomation, in which a body is disintegrated in a mixture of water and lye; and pyrolysis, in which a body is turned into charcoal. As you can see, the options provided for disposing of bodies are starting to sound like concepts straight out of science fiction. Other options are cryonics, which entails preserving a body in low temperatures with the hope that it can be resuscitated in the future (think Walt Disney); and plastination, which is the preservation of a body in plastic (think Body Worlds exhibit). You can also send your ashes into space, or have your family quickly pay their respects through a drive-thru. The world is your oyster.
Changes in people’s average physiognomy have also led to the creation of the oversize casket. The obesity epidemic is wrecking havoc on the funereal industry. A increasingly numerous section of the population just cannot fit in standard coffins. Furthermore, the large amount of fat contained in a very corpulent person’s remains has forced crematoriums to modify their standard operations. As you know, fat is very combustive, therefore incinerating an obese corpse can be very dangerous.
I’ve spoken about how post-mortem photographs as memorial objects are no longer trendy. I mentioned how some of these pictures were attached to broaches, which the bereaved wore as a commemorative item. These days, we also have wearable commemorative items, though they are quite a bit more subtle. A memorial diamond is created by extracting the carbon in hair or cremated remains, and synthesizing it into a diamond.
It is also possible to plant commemorative trees for loved ones.
Online memorials are all the rage with the kids these days. I’ve discussed this in some comments in previous posts, but there is a growing trend for people to use social media as a means to grieve their loved ones. Jill Sinclair was kind enough to share this link with me on the subject: http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/02/13/facebook-creates-living-will-for-users-accounts-after-death/m4vEyOZV6WXzWiztKvb5FP/story.html