(RNS) – Seeking to legalize the process of turning bodies into soil, a California lawmaker is, once again, trying to pass a bill that would allow human composting in the Golden State.
Burial, cremation and alkaline hydrolysis are the only funeral care choices available in California, and supporters say the new bill, AB 351, “provides another option for people who want a different method of honoring their remains after their death”.
The process of composting a body was introduced by Seattle-based company Recompose, which is now open for business after Washington State legalized the process in 2019. Colorado was the second state to legalize it , followed by Oregon, when Governor Kate Brown in 2021 signed House Bill 2574. New York’s bill awaits Governor Kathy Hochul’s approval.
In California, where the massive death toll from COVID-19 has flooded funeral homes and even led to Los Angeles County’s suspension of air quality regulations for cremation, the Congresswoman for State Cristina Garcia, a Democrat who introduced the legislation, said it was another “sad reminder that we need to legalize a more environmentally friendly option as soon as possible.
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Garcia introduced a similar bill in early 2020, but it failed to make it out of a Senate committee due to costs. The new bill was passed by the Senate Business, Professions, and Economic Development Committee on Monday, June 13.
Here’s how the human composting method works: A corpse is decomposed through a process known as natural organic reduction by placing the body in a reusable container, covering it with wood shavings and airing it, which creates a environment for essential microbes and bacteria. The body, over a period of about 30 days, is completely transformed into soil.
Catholic bishops have opposed this process in states where human composting has been legalized.
The Catholic Conference of California filed a letter of opposition Tuesday in response to the bill.
Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the Catholic Conference of California, said the process “reduces the human body to a mere disposable product.”
In the letter, Domingo likened natural organic reduction to livestock disposal methods, “not as a means of human burial.” Using this method, Domingo said, “can create unfortunate spiritual, emotional, and psychological distancing from the deceased.”
RELATED: Amid Catholic opposition, states legalize composting of human remains
Death care experts say this new eco-friendly procedure is crucial as morgues fill up and people seek more sustainable practices.
In public testimony, the Oregon bill has garnered widespread support, with one Portland resident saying the method provides a “spiritually grounded way” to “return to the land that has sustained us in life.” In other parts of the country, people are hoping the process will be legalized in their states to, as Cory Ruetten of Maryland put it, “bring us back down to earth…like we were meant to.”
The next scheduled hearing for the proposed measure is Wednesday with the Senate Health Committee.