Trap 3: Preventing decomposition
Some consumers hold tightly to the notion that there are processes or products they can buy to prevent a body from decaying -- and some funeral providers do little to disabuse them of that thought. Embalming, caskets, and grave liners or burial vaults are sometimes assumed or pushed as ways to preserve a body. In reality, they don't work that way.
Embalming. When a body is embalmed, it's drained of blood and gases and pumped with replacement fluids to slow disintegration. Its effects are temporary, and the body will generally begin to decompose within a few weeks. To combat the common misperception that embalming has more permanent effects, the Funeral Rule expressly prohibits funeral directors from telling consumers that it will preserve a body.
Caskets. Some caskets are marketed with special extras such as seals, protective linings, and gaskets that imply they'll preserve the body inside. In reality, they usually just add to the expense. The Funeral Rule forbids providers from making any claims that a particular casket will help preserve a body.
Liners and vaults. No state or federal law requires a grave liner or burial vault, which differ slightly in form and function but generally keep the ground at a cemetery from caving in as it shifts over time. Grave liners, which cover the top and sides of a casket, are generally made of reinforced concrete. Burial vaults, also made of concrete or some other heavy material, surround the casket completely. Neither prevents a body from decaying.
How to avoid the trap
Consumers first must accept what some find to be a difficult truth: Dead bodies decompose. But there are inexpensive options that will preserve them for the temporary period that may be required for a public viewing or ceremony.
If presented with a casket that claims to have a specialized lining, seal, or gasket that delays or prevents decomposition, be skeptical. And if assured by the seller that it will do so, take your business elsewhere.
As a less costly alternative to embalming, refrigerating a body will also slow its decomposition until it is viewed or transported for burial or cremation. Most hospitals and funeral homes have facilities for holding or refrigerating bodies and will do so for free or for a minimal charge.
Comparison shop for grave liners and burial vaults. Most cemeteries require some type of outer surround to help prevent the ground from sinking. Those that sell burial containers must give you a list of prices and descriptions of them -- and again, they cannot prevent you from purchasing one from another supplier.