Frequently Asked Questions
IS EMBALMING COMPULSORY?
Yes, if a body is being repatriated to another country. It is a requirement made by airlines. Otherwise it is the recommended way of holding someone until the time of their funeral. Refrigeration (when available) is possible, but it may cause dehydration and discolouration, and it will not minimise the rise of infection to those coming into contact with the deceased.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
Anywhere between two and six hours, depending on the condition of the body, and the requirements of the family. In some cases it may be necessary to extend the embalming procedure over several days, especially if reconstruction is required.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A POST MORTEM (AUTOPSY)?
In cases of a sudden or unexplained death a post mortem examination is carried out by a pathologist under the jurisdiction of a Coroner. Vital organs are examined and small tissue samples taken for later study. Unless permission has been given by the family for them to be retained, all other body parts are returned. After the body is released to the funeral director of the family’s choice, the pathologist’s incisions are reopened, and each area of the body is embalmed via the arteries which supply it. Vital organs are treated separately, and the incisions securely closed. Once the person has been dressed, there are usually no visible signs of the procedure. If there have been serious injuries, some rebuilding of facial features may be required – or the injuries can be covered with a dressing.
CAN FAMILY MEMBERS PARTICIPATE IN PREPARING THEIR LOVED ONE?
Not in the actual embalming procedure (and there are health & safety restrictions to being in a mortuary), but family members may, if they wish, dress the person, apply makeup, style hair and assist with placing them in the casket.
DOES EMBALMING CAUSE POLLUTION OF BURIAL GROUNDS OR THE ATMOSPHERE?
Aldehydes (the principal active ingredient of most embalming fluids) consist of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen – common elements of many substances. They are neutralised on contact with the soil, and during cremation they are totally destroyed, becoming carbon dioxide and water. Studies of ground water in cemeteries, and air samples from crematoria have shown that there is no cause for concern.
ARE THERE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY EMBALMING OPTIONS?
Yes, there are options that will cleanse the arteries and cavities. The reason why many people reject embalming is that they are concerned about adding chemicals to the soil. What is overlooked in this case is that many toxic chemicals are used to prolong life and to ease pain. Not removing them is leaving chemicals in the body that can potentially harm the environment.
WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE?
Contact the New Zealand Embalmer’s (Inc) email@example.com or your local FDANZ and or NZEA member.