Death typically brings two options — burial or cremation — but a third option could be on the horizon in Kansas.
A process called promession would allow the body to be cryogenically frozen and vibrated into tiny pieces. Proponents say the practice, the creation of a Swedish biologist, holds the potential to make burial more environmentally-friendly.
Promession has been used on pigs but so far has not been tried on humans. Still, the company pursuing the idea sees Kansas as fertile ground for the new method. That company, Promessa, has one of its few U.S. representatives based in Overland Park.
Meanwhile, a state lawmaker may introduce a bill in 2020 to clear the way for the new method.
In promession, the body is frozen using liquid nitrogen, then vibrated into small particles. Water is removed from the particles, which are then freeze-dried. Remains are buried in a degradable coffin.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt found that promession doesn’t meet the definition of cremation under Kansas law and regulation in a recent legal opinion.
That decision surprised Promessa representative Rachel Caldwell.
“We thought this would be no hang-ups whatsoever,” Caldwell said.
Interest has been growing in so-called green burials. A 2017 survey of more than 1,000 American adults 40 and older by the National Funeral Directors Association found 54 percent were interested in options that could include biodegradable caskets and formaldehyde-free embalming.
“Newer, greener methods of burial, like promession, may help conserve resources and less pollution into the air or ground,” Zack Pistora, legislative director of the Kansas Sierra Club, said. “Why not rest in peace with peace of mind?”
Schmidt said a decision on whether promession is permissible under other state laws falls to the Kansas Board of Mortuary Arts.
Caldwell said Kansas is the first state where she has sought a formal legal opinion because of what she views as the state’s relatively lax cremation laws. For example, Kansas doesn’t require fire to be used in cremation. That’s a helpful distinction because promession freezes bodies instead of burning them.
Caldwell asked her state representative, Overland Park Democrat Dave Benson, to seek the attorney general’s opinion. He suggested he may draft a bill to authorize promession because of interest in alternatives to traditional burial or cremation. And because he’s taken “a little bit of a libertarian” view.
“If that’s what you want, hey, where’s the government’s interest in telling you not to?” Benson said.
Caldwell is optimistic it could be used on a human body in the United States within five years.