Repairing the dead

Charles 2 Comments

SIn Shanghai a funeral home has started using 3D printing technology to replicate parts of the face of a dead person whose head has been badly smashed and disfigured.

Chinese people reckon it to be of paramount importance to present a dead person at their funeral looking good.

The 3D printing process is reckoned to achieve at least 95 per cent resemblance. It is achieved by scanning a photo of the dead person and taking a 3D scan of their head. The new part is then printed and slotted in. The printer can reproduce hair and even a moustache.

It takes hours to do this. Conventional reconstruction using wax and clay can take days.

The value of embalming is hotly debated, the value of reconstruction not so. The value of being able to present to parents the reconstructed features of a child who has died violently is inestimable. The skills of the best embalmer-reconstructers are marvellous, their dedication amazing.

They could soon find themselves being superceded by a soulless machine.


  1. Charles

    There is certainly value, for some, to be presented with an intact image of their dead person before it is disposed of forever, as it may be an essential part of their immediate grieving needs for that individual death.

    But for me, Charles, this raises the question; where do you stop? If parts of the face may be artificial, how about all of it? What if the person’s entire head has been 3D printed… would that be emotionally convincing enough? Extrapolating from there, why have a real body at all? If the original were simply incinerated, the funeral could be presented with a realistic copy of the person — then what? Does the family take the copy home?

    Much of the reason for a funeral could arguably be said to be a chance to distinguish the dead remains from their living inhabitant, and permanently disposing of them can go a long way to having to accept the distinction and grieve the loss of the person’s immediate presence.

    Personally, I wouldn’t want to be grieving a Tussaudian representation as my mourning period would promise no resolution. But that’s just me; and I believe that, for those who need that kind of comfort, to be given it by another, feeling being who can look you in the eye may be more therapeutic than the most realistic imitation of empathy technology could muster.

    1. Charles

      It would be interesting to know why this is of paramount importance in Japanese culture. Is it purely emotional or is there also an element of afterlife belief (as in Ancient Egypt where the body had to be whole for the afterlife and artificial parts were added if necessary)? I genuinely don’t know, but it would be interesting to find out.

      Keith once did some reconstruction on a young man who had died in a car accident and had serious facial disfigurement. This was back when he worked for someone else. He spent hours doing it and was surprised when the young man’s mother requested that it all be removed. He was very worried about doing this, but did as he was asked. The lady felt much better. She said that it was important for her to understand why he was dead. Keith has never forgotten this. Would seem to endorse what you say here.

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