Ask the Funeral Director
I am doing a project for my college English course. I would like to know what is legally required for the care of & disposition of a deceased person? Also, what is the history of embalming?
Legally, the State of Michigan recognizes several legal forms of disposition: Burial, Cremation, Entombment, Donation, Removal (from the state), Storage, and “Other.”
Typically, we are dealing with either burial or cremation, sometimes donation (to a university). Embalming is done in any case where disposition will be done 48 hours or more after death. In some cases, the decedent is buried or cremated immediately and embalming is not done. Typically, embalming is done in any case where there will be a public visitation with the deceased present. Legally, burial can be done at any time after death (as arranged with the family). In the case of cremation, we must first secure signatures from the majority of all legal next of kin (spouse, children, etc.), and also obtain a cremation permit from the County Medical Examiner. Once we have these signatures and permissions, the cremation is scheduled.
As for embalming, a license is required in mortuary science, along with years of training and an apprenticeship to perform the embalming process. I’m certainly not an expert on the history of embalming, but in a nutshell, it originated in ancient Egypt, where it was a 70-day process reserved for dignitaries and the wealthy. Obviously, what we do now does not take months, but rather just a few hours. Our modern embalming process was developed during the Civil War, where it was necessary to quickly preserve the bodies of fallen soldiers to be returned home for their funeral services. Although we use less toxic chemicals now, and have more advanced equipment, much of what we do is indeed similar to the embalming practiced since the Civil War.