You will likely hear the terms body disposition or final disposition when planning a funeral. So we have outlined everything you need to know about the terms below, including a simplified definition and the different disposition options people can choose for their final arrangements.
Both terms have the same meaning in the context of a funeral.
In the context of legal proceedings, "final disposition" may refer to implementing a court order or termination of criminal prosecution.
However, this article focuses on the definition of the terms in a funeral context. As such, final disposition or body disposition refers to how a dead body is handled after death. This can include traditional funeral options like cremation and burial but can also include events associated with these, such as interment or ash scattering.
Two of the most common disposition options are burial and cremation. However, there are many newer funeral dispositions in development that may become available to Americans and Canadians in the next decade. These options are discussed below.
In the context of a funeral, burial is the process of placing a dead body in the ground, covering it over with soil, and allowing it to decompose over time. This can occur at a cemetery, a private family plot, a green burial site, at sea, etc. A person can be buried alone or with a related loved one or spouse in a family grave plot.
A body is usually placed in a casket or coffin for burial. (In some cases, it can be wrapped in a shroud.) However, these may not be required depending on local laws.
A burial can also refer to the interment of a dead body in a mausoleum. This is a large structure that houses the remains of several people.
Cremation is a funerary process in which a dead body is reduced into bone fragments. The bone fragments are processed further to create a powder called "cremated remains" or "ashes." There are two main types of cremation – flame cremation and aquamation.
Both types of ashes can be kept in a decorative container called an urn. Urns can be buried or placed in a niche or columbarium in a cemetery. A columbarium is a structure used to store and often display urns. There are usually designated areas called a niche that hold the urns and feature things that help remember and memorialize the deceased. Ashes can also be scattered.
There are two cremation dispositions:
Flame cremation produces ashes by exposing a body to extremely high temperatures in a cremation chamber. Organic material in the body is consumed by extreme heat, except for bone and any non-combustible materials. The remaining bone fragments are mechanically processed into coarse powder and placed in an urn.
Aquamation uses the chemical process of alkaline hydrolysis to cremate remains. In this process, a body is treated with water, alkali (a chemical called potassium hydroxide), heat, and pressure, which produces a reaction that speeds up the body's decomposition. When complete, it leaves behind bone fragments and a sterile liquid. The bone is pulverized into a fine powder and placed in an urn. The sterile liquid byproduct is released into the municipal wastewater stream.
In the context of cremation ashes, final disposition may refer to how the ashes are handled.
There are many unique things to do with ashes after cremation. Typical dispositions can include:
Some more examples of how ashes can be handled in the articles below:
Green burial is often used as a blanket term to refer to death and funerary practices that aim to minimize environmental impact. For example, flame cremation and aquamation may fall under this category since both are quicker than burial, less labour intensive, and require fewer resources. However, Aquamation takes it a step further by eliminating the burning of fossil fuels, the direct emission of greenhouse gases, and using less energy than flame-based cremation.
Green burials can also refer to actual burials at a green burial site. According to the Green Burial Society of Canada, to be considered a green burial, it must include five principles. These are as follows:
Several green burial sites can be found across Canada and the United States. Many companies have also developed new green burial techniques that can be used at these sites or in traditional cemeteries or may be offered in the future. Examples of these next generation dispositions include: