Blog Archives: July 2016

“Sensitive incineration” – definition please?

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

incineration of clinical waste

Guest post by Tim Morris from the ICCM

“Sensitive incineration of Pre-Term Babies”

Is this a valid option for bereaved parents alongside burial and cremation? Believe me, it has been accepted in some quarters. If you are a bereaved parent or of a sensitive disposition, I apologise for any cold technical and legal terms used however they are in use, I mean no offence.

The Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management has opposed the option of ‘sensitive incineration’ as an option for the disposal of pre-term babies, on the grounds that such a thing does not exist.

When the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) consulted on the disposal of pregnancy remains following pregnancy loss or termination in March 2015, the ICCM made its position very clear. Is adding the word ‘sensitive’ an attempt to make the disposal of babies as clinical waste sound acceptable? The (re)introduction of incineration was a surprise when the HTA Guidance was published, as the year prior to this, 2014, the then Health Minister had branded the practice ‘totally unacceptable’ and ordered it to cease – see here.

Scotland, ahead of the game at present in matters of burial and cremation and the disposal of the dead, banned the sending of lost babies to incineration plants in 2012.

Well done Scotland.

Having attended various events and gatherings, and more recently speaking at the Child Funeral Charity seminar just a week ago, I have taken the opportunity to ask those gathered if they could describe sensitive incineration. To date nobody has, not even the HTA and organisations that have supported it.

Whist it could be understood and accepted that some women might not want any recognition for their baby, whether miscarried or aborted, the suggestion that it would be their wish to have no record of nor recognition for their baby does not follow. There will always be a record at the hospital or clinic on medical files, and the hospital or clinic would need to retain a signed consent form, plus the record of waste transfer to the incinerator (in the form of a waste transfer note required under waste management legislation) is yet another record in the chain of events. In other words an audit trail.

If the final act takes place at a crematorium or cemetery, a hospital or clinic record will be maintained albeit the name of the mother being substituted with a case number in order to maintain confidentiality required under the Abortion Act if the mother so desires. No record of the mother would be held at the cemetery or crematorium, hence confidentiality maintained. Whilst there might be audit trails in respect of incineration, burial and cremation the overriding fact is that parents are not revealed and confidentiality is maintained. Recognition of a lost baby could only be given or not by parents.

Anyway, an attempt at a description of sensitive incineration comes via the HTA Guidance that suggests that these babies should be placed in a container and not with other clinical waste, and that a minister of religion could accompany the container (yellow plastic bag??) on its journey and to its end.

It also suggests that these babies are incinerated separately from other clinical waste. Is this possible in a commercial, continuous, industrial process? Could someone explain? The ash, even if it could be separated from the ash produced from the burning of other waste, would surely not be respectfully scattered in a pleasant area of grounds but will be dumped in a landfill site.

I really feel for those hospital staff that might be required to attempt to describe sensitive incineration alongside descriptions of burial and cremation. Perhaps some might refuse? Perhaps some bereaved parents will be shocked into making complaint? Time will tell. Perhaps hospital managers should visit both crematorium and incineration plant and draft a truly accurate description of the process observed at each in an attempt to help their staff?

Note Clause 5.3 in the Royal College of Nursing Guidance

The MoJ published its response to its consultation on review of the cremation regulations on 7th July, just last week. The review was required as it was evident that action was required in light of the Baby and Infant Cremation Investigation Reports, the Commission report in Scotland, and the Emstrey report in England. It was music to our ears as the Institute had long since campaigned to bring the cremation of fetuses into regulation. The first Institute policy statement issued in 1985, (yes 1985!) entitled ‘Fetal Remains, an IBCA policy statement’ was basically an attempt to cease sending pre-term babies to waste incinerators (Note that IBCA is the former title of the Institute). At that time, all babies born prior to 28 weeks (now 24 weeks) gestation and showing no signs of life, were consigned to the incinerator. Only stillborn babies had recognition and were either buried or cremated. Various legal and ethical arguments for and against cremation of pre-term babies were aired at that time, including the fact that fetuses have no legal status and that an attempt was being made to turn crematoria into waste disposal sites. Whilst fetuses still have no legal status today and the vast majority of crematoria will cremate them, the fact that cremation is technically unlawful has been avoided by government in England and Wales until now.

Good for Scotland and Lord Bonomy for recommending the regulations of the cremation of fetuses in 2014 in his Report of the Infant Cremation Commission, the Scottish Parliament bringing the regulation of Baby and infant cremations into a new Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 and hence leading England and Wales along the same path.

There is a big difference though. Incineration is banned in Scotland yet condoned in England and Wales.

The Institute stuck to its aim and reviewed and revised its policy and guidance on the Sensitive Disposal of Fetal remains over the years and numbers of burials and cremations slowly increased so perhaps incineration decreased.

Not surprisingly the MoJ response includes ‘definition of ashes’ in its list of items to be dealt with, as this was the fundamental issue in at least three of the inquiry etc. reports. The response also speaks of an inspector of crematoria and statutory forms and register, the latter two items being the masterstroke of Lord Bonomy in bringing the cremation of fetuses into regulation. At last.

The only part of the MoJ that was not music to our ears was reference to ‘sensitive incineration’. The mention of sensitive incineration mirrors the view of the (HTA) that it should be an option for bereaved parents alongside burial and cremation. I don’t recall that this option was discussed in the MoJ consultation. The spectre of sensitive incineration exists and has been reinforced.

So back to basics:

Can anyone describe the sensitive incineration of babies?

Why is sensitive incineration being given a push?

Are the words of the Minister ‘totally unacceptable’ made in 2014 being ignored?

The Institute’s description of sensitive incineration is ‘disposal at a waste incinerator that conducts a continuous, industrial process in accordance with waste management legislation’. Any advance on this or perhaps a more ‘sensitive’ description?

Has the word ‘sensitive has been highjacked?

Finally, are we are supposed to be a sensitive and caring society? Seems that Scotland has the lead on this as well.

What we can learn from the funerals in Game of Thrones

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Game of Thrones and funerals

Guest post by Amy Cunningham in the USA

With funeral options like earth-friendly burial in simple shroud or biodegradable casket, family-witnessed cremation, and full body sea submersion drawing more interest than ever, it’s a good time to notice that the end-of-life rituals in HBO‘s epic fantasy drama “Game of Thrones” are culturally connected. Not since “Six Feet Under,” has a TV show startled and electrified us with such fabulous funeral services. From high church to home-spun, these Celtic-y/Viking-ish pagan spectacles (that sometimes smack of a Greek/East Asian/ Mongolian influence) will affect the future funeral planning decisions of Americans now under the age of 30. To distill the wisdom in GOT’s finest send-offs (spoilers ahead!), my 19-year-old son Gordon Waldman has kindly come to my assistance. So many deaths have occurred in the six seasons that Slate magazine has been tracking them.

Here’s what we might glean–

1. Grief is real and long lasting.
It can drive you in strange and marvelous directions. Many main characters in the show are fueled by the emotions caused by loss. Cersei Lannister is basically driven to madness over the deaths of her children, while Arya Stark seeks gruesome revenge against those who murdered her family.

2. Bodies are important.
The phrase “bring out your dead” seems operative. Death is not a medical event, it’s a community experience, whether it’s the head of Ned Stark on a pike or yet another formal visitation with viewing in King’s Landing. I too want a golden burial shroud and loads of votive candles!

3. It’s nice to have the support of a hospice worker, death doula or home funeral guide to help you bathe and groom the deceased person’s body soon after death.
I’m impressed with the work of the Silent Sisters (the death midwifes of the Seven Kingdoms who collect, bathe, and shroud the dead). They remind me of my saintly sisters in the National Home Funeral Alliance, though we are far from silent at the moment.

Nice idea: the Silent Sisters hand delivered Eddard "Ned" Stark's remains to a tented residence.

Nice idea: the Silent Sisters hand delivered Eddard “Ned” Stark’s remains to a tented residence.

4. Rituals employing one of the elements–fire, water, earth, air–help grieving families process the loss.
The countless cremations conducted by the Night’s Watch are contrasted with the epic sea burials used by House Greyjoy. All are transformative.

The difficult-to-love Baylon Grayjoy had a stunningly gorgeous sea burial, one of my personal favorites. "Feed the creatures of your kingdom on his flesh. Pull his bones down to your depths to rest beside his ancestors and his children."

The difficult-to-love Baylon Grayjoy had a stunningly gorgeous sea burial, one of my personal favorites. “Feed the creatures of your kingdom on his flesh. Pull his bones down to your depths to rest beside his ancestors and his children.”

5. The more you involve yourself with the care of the dead and the funeral itself, the more you might help yourself heal.
There have been too many pyre lightings to mention, but the lesson seems to be–get in there, don’t hold back, participate in the funeral and heal.

Service for one: With tears in his eyes, a dutiful and beleaguered Jon Snow lights his lover Ygritte's pyre.

Service for one: With tears in his eyes, a dutiful and beleaguered Jon Snow lights his lover Ygritte’s pyre.

6. It is best not to make large demands of other family members at the funeral.
Jaimie and Cersei break this rule far too much, and have their most bizarre exchanges in front of the bier.

7. Stay flexible.
Funerals aren’t supposed to be perfect, and sometimes you have to change plans on a dime. Season six finale (spoiler alert!) shows Cersei spontaneously selecting cremation instead of entombment for her newly deceased son Tommen since, in a complex twist of fate, she’s just blown up their version of Westminster Abbey, where every other dead relative, up to then, had been placed in crypts.

8. Hang in there, get support.
As Daenerys learned after her Dothraki husband’s cremation, you never “get over” the death of someone close to you. But you will, in time, “get with” the loss and walk on with it. You might even hatch three dragons!

The cremation of Maester Aemon required four people to light each corner of the twiggy pyre. “He was the blood of the Dragon, but now his fire has gone out.” The memorable funeral service starts 90 seconds into this video.

Seasons of grieving: Take your time, cycle through, marinate in any death that is sudden or completely unexpected.

Seasons of grieving: Take your time, cycle through, marinate in any death that is sudden or completely unexpected.

Want something different? Why not order a handcrafted casket or make one yourself? A funeral can be just as imaginative and important as a wedding and, much to the surprise of some "Game of Thrones" characters, a funeral can turn out a lot better.

Want something different? Why not order a handcrafted casket or make one yourself? A funeral can be just as imaginative and important as a wedding and, much to the surprise of some “Game of Thrones” characters, a funeral can turn out a lot better.

Hang in there. Stay present. Take a risk. Something larger than yourself will hatch before too much more time passes.

Hang in there. Stay present. Take a risk. Something larger than yourself will hatch before too much more time passes.

Ed’s note: Today’s guest post comes from the other side of the pond.  Amy Cunningham, is the owner of the recently launched and much needed Fitting Tribute Funeral Services in Brooklyn, USA. She specialises in green burials in cemeteries certified by the Green Burial Council, simple burials within the NYC- Metropolitan area, home funerals, and cremation services at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery’s gorgeous crematory chapels.  She also helps residents of New York with affordable and sustainable funerals.  She’s a rare find in the New York funeral scene.  We have a lot of time for her much needed holistic approach to funerals.  If you’re ever in America, track her down.

Sizzling Summer continued..

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

cloudy sky

Now that the sun has come out a bit and the Wimbledon quarter finals have been reached, the attraction of spending daylight time at conferences and seminars about funerals has waned a little – however, the GFG is nothing if not self sacrificing, so this week that’s just what we’ve been doing.

Also, having rather cheekily asked for a free ticket to the CBCE conference, which is organised by The Cremation Society of Great Britain and The Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities (who were not on friendly terms with us back in 2014, see here) – and kindly been given one, it would have been churlish not to go along.

So on Monday and Tuesday this week we joined members and delegates in Stratford-upon-Avon, and sat in on some really rather excellent talks. Among them were presentations from some good friends of the GFG and people whose work we are very interested in: – Dr. John Troyer PhD from the Centre for Death and Society spoke on the subject of ‘All things dead are new again’ and gave a fascinating insight into society’s approach to death since the 1970’s, that period of social and political upheaval with very bad fashion. Did you know, for instance, that between 1968 and 1972 there were around 1,200 books published on the subject of death and bereavement? There was a huge interest in debating death and end of life issues that is largely now overshadowed by more recent ideas of death being a taboo.

Dr. Brian Parsons, (who has lots of letters after his name – more about him here) illustrated the exceptional promotion of cremation in the South London area between 1914 and 1939 and how this was achieved, showing us advertisements and leaflets from early in the 20th century and demonstrating how society’s view of cremation in this part of the country was changed in a much faster way than elsewhere in the UK as crematoria sprang up in close proximity to each other. (By 1939, within an 11.5 mile radius of the offices of Frederick Paine in Kingston, there were six crematoria to choose from.

Sandy Sullivan from Resomation Ltd gave an update on the developments so far, as he continues to push for the necessary legislative change in the UK to enable the first installation to take place here. In the USA there are three Resomation units in operation and over 2,000 Resomations have been carried out. No longer partnered by Co-operative Funeralcare, Sandy has a new partner in The LBBC Group, and his enthusiasm is undimmed by the long years of trying to get a Resomation unit operative here in Britain.

A second fascinating presentation yesterday came from Tony Ennis, CEO of ecoLegacy, whose ecoLation process is described as a disruptive, next-generation, environmental and ethical alternative to burial and cremation. Using freezing, heat and pressure, the ecoLation process is a way of breaking down the body to an elemental level until the only thing left is biologically inert dust. Half a billion dollars of equipment is to be deployed in the introduction of ecoLation units in the next five years, with the first commercial unit to be launched in Dublin in October. We’ll be going to have a look at it for you.

James Norris, our good friend from Dead Social and the Digital Legacy Association gave warning about the need for preparation for our death online and explored how we remember those who have died through social media and their ongoing online presence. He talked about the resources available for professionals from the DLA and how these could be used as a soft approach to open conversations about death by asking, for example, whether you have a password / security code to access your phone, tablet or laptop (the vast majority of us do) and whether you have told anyone else what that is. Well, have you? If you haven’t, then the huge amount of information held on your devices won’t be accessible when you die.

Dr. Mary Ross-Davie, the Education Project Manager for Maternal Health, NHS Education for Scotland recounted the multi-agency coordinated response to the Rt. Hon. Lord Bonomy’s report on infant cremation, and the resulting introduction of a new Code of Practice and new guidance for professionals working with newly bereaved parents. Of particular note is the newly accepted definition of ashes ‘All that is left in the cremator at the end of the cremation process following the removal of any metal’ – irrespective of their composition.

There was a detailed and comprehensive presentation from Dr. Anne Eyre PhD. looking at dealing with disasters and the implications for death care professionals. Drawing on her personal and professional experience, Dr. Eyre talked in depth about the essential need, both social and symbolic, to re-identify the dead in any disaster situation as persons, not just bodies, and how critical it is that people bereaved by disaster be given choice and control. In disasters, a person becomes an object, one of the dead, and society insists that disaster victims be treated as persons, not bodies – a person-to-object-to-person transformation through painstaking efforts to re-personalise the dead.

“Every effort needs to be made to turn bodies into persons. In this process of personalization, considerable respect is shown in handling bodies.

It is clear that something very important and very fundamental is occurring, for the dead are not socially dead unless the right steps are taken leading to an individual’s funeral.

To the dead, it may not matter, but it does to the living… the living will, if at all possible, not let go of the dead until the body involved is respectfully converted back into an individual person.”

Other speakers were Leona McAllister from Plotbox, who told the delegates about how the future ‘Memorial Parks’ could look, and P. Scott Odom, director / architect from GoldenAge – Mausoleum Solutions Ltd. who talked about community mausoleums in the USA.

The long day yesterday ended for us with the Presidents Panel, where four representatives from different trade organisations (SAIF, FBCA, NAMM and the Co-operative Funeral Services Managers Association) gave their thoughts about various subjects to the room. It was time to pack up and come home.


Is this the worst crematorium in Britain?

Monday, 4 July 2016

Is this the worst crematorium in Britain?

Every year we celebrate the best of the funeral industry with the Good Funeral Awards.  There isn’t a ‘Worst Crematorium of the Year” award but if there was such an accolade, we have a strong contender.

Introducing our readers to West London Crematorium, as photographed on Thursday 30th June 2016.

Decaying curtains, stained carpets, seating you wouldn’t want to sit on, general disrepair and so much more.

Shoddy’s a good word.  As is lazy.  So is unacceptable.  All befit the state of this crematorium.

Our question: Is this the worst crematorium in Britain?  It’s over to you.

West London Crematorium
Kensal Green, Harrow Road, London, W10 4RA
Owned and managed by the General Cemetery Company
Cost of cremation: £650

Ed’s note – we’ve contacted the General Cemetery Company and asked for a response.  We’ll keep you updated.  

Full disclosure – I took the photographs below when I returned to the crematorium to look for my lost book of funeral poetry, the day after taking a service in the West Chapel.







The fashion of death…

Friday, 1 July 2016

Victorian mourning hats

Guest post by Howard Hodgson



‘In the midst of life we are but in death, of whom may we seek for succour but thee oh Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased’ are words that most of us would have associated with an Anglican funeral service a decade ago. But this is no longer the case today. Why?

It is because the post war baby boomers are starting to die. Therefore, the children of the social revolution of the early 1960s, who ripped down the lasting vestures of Victorian society and values and replaced such discipline and order with the Beatles and Bob Dylan, are now attacking conventional death ritual as it looms towards them.

This is hardly surprising. Why would a generation who grabbed power and kept it do anything else? Paul McCartney, aged 74, still fills stadia all over the world with people of all ages to listen to his music, most of which was written over 40 years ago.

We are talking of a pampered generation from birth that believes in ‘oh how to die’ as much as it did in ‘oh how to be a teenager’ all those years ago. Therefore, it is not surprising that it questions the need to have a traditional funeral – and all the costs associated with it.

This is because these folk are less religious and more allergic to formality than their parents. Therefore, they don’t like the cost associated with a distressed purchase and, in the case of some, would prefer not to be forced to attend a morbid occasion but a more colourful celebration of life or even have a party instead. After all, we are talking about the original sex, drugs and rock and roll generation.

So, while there is no escaping the pain of bereavement, it is everyone’s right to choose how to deal with it – and this is their way and it follows 100% their way of living.

As a result, today some families are shocked and concerned that a traditional funeral will cost around £4,500 while they are quite content to spend more on a family holiday and four times that sum on a wedding. This is pure baby boomer thinking.

At Memoria, we have developed three options of direct cremation to meet this new demand. Interest has been very considerable, as it has been in the same options available in the form of three pre-arranged direct cremation plans. Such options allow a family to have a one hour service of their choice while reducing the costs by between 55 – 80% dependent upon the option selected.

Last year we conducted just a mere handful of direct cremations. This year the total equals about 7% of our turnover. While I don’t expect direct cremation to grow to become 100% of the market, I do expect it to grow to over 40% in the next decade.

Furthermore, I can report that such growth is being driven by social groups A, B and C, while D and E still prefer to arrange traditional funerals. Therefore, it is safe to say that so-called ‘funeral poverty’ has little or nothing to do with this new trend.

Nevertheless, the introduction of direct cremation services has widened the choice available to all and this is a very good thing too for people of limited financial means, while not having any affect on those who still wish to choose a traditional funeral complete with hearses and limousines etc.

So there is absolutely no reason why ‘Abide with me’ should not be sung in one service and ‘Hey Jude’ played in the next.


Howard Hodgson