“Except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law…” (Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Funeral Rule, Disclosure No. 2) This statement begs the question, “What are the certain special cases and do they apply to my loved one?” Embalming is not required if a loved one is going to be cremated or buried without services, as in Direct Cremation or Immediate Burial. Services include viewings, visitations, funerals and graveside services where the body will be available for others to see. Without embalming, the body may not be present at any type of service where the public may be exposed to it. In some cases, a family may choose to have a visitation with a closed casket or a funeral with a closed casket, and in these cases, embalming may not be required.
Generally, without embalming, the service must take place within 24 hours of death. There are extenuating circumstances, however. If your loved one were brutally murdered and sent for autopsy, the funeral home would not have your loved one for a number of days. Quite often, brutal murders negate the opportunity for viewing due to extensive damage to the deceased, rendering the body unembalmable. The family may still have a visitation and funeral with the body present with the added services of refrigeration and Mylar encasement. Viewing, however, will not be lawful or possible.
Embalming does not extend the decedent’s presentational integrity indefinitely. Although decomposition has been chemically impeded, it has not been stopped; it merely continues to decompose on a slower schedule. How long the decedent’s presentational integrity is preserved is dependent on a multitude of factors. The condition of the body at death, the illnesses suffered by the deceased and the span of time between death and embalming. In most cases, if the body is in good condition before embalming and if embalming takes place within a few hours of death, the decedent’s presentational integrity is extended for three to five days. If additional time is required and your embalmer is pro-actively working on the body daily, eight days may be possible. In rare cases, if the embalmer is diligently exercising restorative measures, one might be able to press an additional day or two more.
Funeral Practitioners are trained in the arts of restoration, however, if a deceased individual were brutally murdered, even restoration may not be what the family wants to see. If you ever suffer such a tragic experience, discuss it as openly as possible with your funeral practitioner, they will be honest about the esthetic possibilities of the restorative work.
Embalming is required with any funeral that includes services where the casket may be opened. Other situations requiring embalming are those that require transportation of the body. In some states and counties across America, a body may not be transported across county or state borders without embalming. Air travel and dangerous or contagious diseases also require embalming.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author and freelance writer. I write books, weekly bereavement articles, and mid-week grief briefs related to understanding and coping with grief. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.