Information About Embalming

What is embalming?

Embalming takes its name from the resinous compounds, or balms, historically used in chi iconmedicinal treatments and the preservation of bodies.

Embalming is often associated with the ancient Egyptians, whose beliefs required the thorough preservation of their leaders. It was believed that after death, the soul embarked on a journey that could take several thousand years to complete, finally being reunited with the earthly remains to rise from the dead and live with the gods for eternity.

Some religions expressly forbid embalming, but it is more usual for modern faiths to accept embalming as a matter of personal choice, or permit it for the purposes of repatriating the deceased to his or her country of birth.

Modern embalming

Modern embalming has little in common with the practices of the ancient Egyptians, and is a cosmetic treatment to improve the appearance, rather than a means of preserving the body indefinitely.

Often referred to as 'cosmetic embalming' or 'cosmetic treatment', it has no long-term preservative effect, but is intended to prevent deterioration in the lead up to the funeral and to give a more peaceful, 'life-like' appearance.
This is achieved by draining the fluid from the body and replacing it with chemicals.

Is embalming necessary?

A qualified, professional embalmer will advise that embalming can improve the appearance of the deceased, explain the process and assess whether an effective result can be achieved.

There is no legal requirement for a body to be embalmed. In many areas, embalming is not routinely carried out. Iy is banned by some religons.

It is often thought that embalming will disinfect the body, protecting the living from the risk of infection however; there is no evidence to suggest that a body poses a risk to the living, except if he or she died of a 'notifiable disease' (a highly infectious disease which requires reporting to the health authority). Where the deceased died from such a disease, embalming is strictly forbidden.

In woodland burial sites and environmentally sensitive cemeteries, the burial of embalmed bodies may not be permitted.

If you do not plan to view the body at the undertaker's chapel of rest, then there appears to be little benefit to be gained from embalming.

Environmental issues

Modern embalming fluids have traditionally been a combination of chemicals, including formaldehyde, a volatile chemical known for its preservative, fungicidal and bactericidal properties. Although research into the specific effects of embalming fluids on soil organisms and air quality is limited, environmentalists will generally disapprove of embalming.

Increased concern for our environment has resulted in a new generation of 'green' embalming fluids becoming available. These products are less harmful to the environment than formaldehyde based products, however, it can be argued that bit is more environmentally friendly not to use embalming products at all.

Do I have a choice?

Yes. Because there is no legal requirement for embalming to take place, it should be the family's decision whether or not their loved one should be embalmed. The Code of Ethics issued by the British Institute of Embalmers states that "the clients informed consent, preferably in writing, must be obtained" before embalming takes place.

Funeral packages and pre-payment plans can vary, depending on the funeral director, and embalming may involve extra costs on the funeral account. If you are unsure, you should ask your funeral director what is included in the funeral package or plan, and make it known to them if you oppose embalming.

Although many families acknowledge the benefit of professional embalming, there are many that comment on the unnatural or waxy appearance that can sometimes result from embalming.

A video about embalming in the UK

Search Amazon UK

Search Amazon US