Delaying Death

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Hoping everyone had a relaxing Memorial Day weekend and a great official start to summer. Lots of articles to share this month! First off, because we covered it earlier this year, the Recompose composting burial ground is on track because Washington state legalized both composting and alkaline hydrolosis as acceptable final dispositions. The bill goes into effect in 2020, so there still is a ways to go, but the last major legal hurdle has been cleared.

We've covered a number of articles in the mainstream news around business innovation in death care. "Disruption Comes for Death" highlights cremation and green burial options in particular to illustrate the changes coming to the industry, led by "disrupters". After touching on a few bio-degradable and green cremation options, the piece discusses new business models like Solace, the cremation startup out of Oregon that we wrote about last month. Talking with a funeral director in Pennsylvania at the end of the piece results in a good summation:

"Death’s new consumerist approach is bred from society’s desire for ritual. As memorial services become an increasingly non-religious event, traditional ideals are obfuscated by the notion of wanting to be seen, even in death".

Then Fast Company took a broad look at "death wellness." Related to the death-positive movement, death wellness is a broad movement amount many end-of-life areas that focuses on the actual experience before, during, and after death, for the deceased and the family. Not surprisingly, one survey found that of the 82% of people who thought it important to write down end-of-life directives, only 23% actually do. I have been seeing more content lately raising prompting people to consider their end-of-life decisions and preferences. On the flip side, there is a growing segment of the tech industry that is betting on ways to make people life longer.

Last summer, I spoke to the New England Cemetery Association members about death care and media. As a thought experiment towards the end of the talk, I brought up the idea of immortality and life-extension. With the pace of scientific and medical breakthroughs, the idea of extending the human lifespan is no longer just a fantasy. Bank of America just released a report on the investment sector of lifespan technology, estimating that it will grow from a $110 billion industry today to a nearly $600 billion industry in just 6 years. Living longer or "solving death" provokes many arresting ethical and philosophical questions in general, as well as ones unique to our industry. How would it affect your business? What happens if death is more of a deliberate choice than ever before?

Finally, I have to pass along this fantastic personal essay from an author reflecting on the difficult process of planning a Muslim funeral for her father in New York City. Although the city contains 23% of all Muslims in the U.S., funeral accommodations remain a challenge. She thoughtfully discusses grief, identity, and displacement while interrogating the absence of final resting places for Muslims in a city that so many call home.

Thanks for reading!