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Why Bother With a Proper Burial?

When I first started my sales practice, one of my first clients was Mrs. W. She was an elderly woman who lived on a fixed income. She was a very strong believer in life insurance; every time she had a new grandchild, she bought a new policy from me on that boy or girl’s life.

Why did she do that, especially since her funds were limited? One reason is that for her, infant mortality was a real threat. She had grown up in the beginning of the 20th century, and in those days it was all too common for people to tragically suffer the loss of their baby.

Her other reason for buying the insurance was to make sure sufficient money would be available for a proper burial, should the need arise. She did not want to risk one of her children not having the cash on hand for final expenses. It was very important to her that dignified arrangements be made. A person even one month old deserved nothing less.

Mrs. W. had this ethic of decency that I think was common to her generation. Not so much today. Have you heard about the incineration of thousands of aborted and miscarried babies as clinical waste in England? In his scathing – and very appropriate – criticism of this act by Addenbrooke Hospital, Jeff Jacoby shows how a harshly utilitarian point of view can rob people of their dignity.

He hits the nail on the head with this conclusion:

From a strictly utilitarian point of view, why not? Not only did the hospital save £18.50 per cremation, it helped cut energy costs as well. It doesn’t make any difference to the fetus how it’s disposed of. Why should it make a difference to us?

The answer used to be self-evident: Human beings are more than mere flesh, more than just one organism among all other organisms. Death doesn’t transform us into “clinical waste,” suitable for recycling or fueling an industrial heating system. Human beings have moral agency; that is what elevates us above every other creature. It is why human rights are intrinsic and universal, it is why human life must be treated with dignity — and why human remains must be handled with dignity when we die. And yes, it’s why even the remains of an unborn baby should be treated respectfully.

Why bother with a proper burial? Because when people pass on, it is up to their survivors to honor their good name. Calling them garbage does not get that done.

What do you think?