“Soylent Green” was a 1973 science fiction film that starred Charlton Heston. In the movie, a primary foodstuff for an overpopulated and over-polluted world is something called “soylent green,” which is a processed, wafer-like biscuit. Toward the end of the movie, which depicts a dystopian police state, Heston discovers that the primary ingredient in soylent green is processed human corpses. While the process of dissolving and then reconstituting human bodies into edible products does not yet appear to be on the horizon in the real world, the process of dissolving human bodies into liquids and disposing of them at water treatment plants, is.
The process of placing a human corpse in a pressurized vat with potassium hydroxide and then heating the liquid until all but bones, teeth and artificial metal joints are left, is catching on as more “eco-friendly” than cremation as a method of disposing of a loved one. People whose mission in life is to do everything in as “green” a manner as possible appear to be the primary targets of the small, but growing number of companies that offer “resomation” as an alternative to traditional burial or cremation. The “hook” with which customers are lured in is the claim that resomation is more environmentally-friendly than cremation; because, for example, there is less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a by-product of the process — some 573 pounds according to an article appearing recently in the “Daily Mail” in the United Kingdom.
The term “resomation” is a made-up word apparently taken from the Greek word “resoma,” which translates roughly to “rebirth of the human body.” The word reflects classic Orwellian double-speak, insofar as dissolving a corpse in chemicals that can then be flushed down the drain is by no stretch of the imagination a “rebirth” of anything. (I did not even find the word in the copy of “Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary” I keep close by my writing desk.) Still, labeling this procedure with a word known to very few outside the industry that apparently coined it, gives it a level of respectability and acceptance it likely would not enjoy were it described for what it really is.
This process of dissolving corpses and then simply disposing of the resulting “brown-green tinted liquid” is currently being studied by the European Union Commission for approval in Scotland, Belgium, and presumably elsewhere in Europe. Already a handfull of states in the U.S., including Florida and Minnesota, have approved the process. According to Sandy Sullivan, described in a December 2009 New York Times article on resomation as the “managing director of Resomation, a company in Scotland that has designed a resomation machine,” the liquid resulting from a resomation is best simply “sent . . . to the water treatment plant.” And, folks, this is not a science fiction movie being described and quoted here; it’s the real world.