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Sweden could allow freeze-dried corpses

Published: 16 May 2007 12:08 GMT+02:00
Updated: 16 May 2007 12:08 GMT+02:00

Sweden is considering allowing freeze-drying as a new method to bury the dead instead of traditional burials and cremations, Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth told the Swedish church's weekly paper on Wednesday.

"I would like to push for the issue of freeze-drying. I think it is interesting and based on what I have heard I have a positive view of the method," Adelsohn Liljeroth, whose brief covers burial laws, told Kyrkans Tidning.

The freeze-drying method offers an environmentally friendly burial transforming corpses into organic compost. Traditional burials and cremations hurt the environment by polluting air and water, as a corpse buried in a coffin will take many years to decompose completely.

Under the new method, the corpse is taken to a temperature of minus 196 degrees Celsius in a liquid nitrogen bath and the body is broken down into a rough powder through mechanical vibrations.

The remains are then dehydrated and cleared of any metal, reducing a body weighing 75 kilograms (165 pounds) in life to 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of pink-beige powder, plus the remains of the coffin.

The whole process takes place in a facility resembling a crematorium and lasts for about two hours.

Swedish legislation would need to be changed in order to legalise the method.

"We will have to put forward a proposal to change the burial law," the minister said, adding that many of Sweden's bishops shared her positive view.

The Lutheran Church of Sweden has been pushing for the legalisation of the new method for years.

"Finally! We have been in touch with the culture ministry over and over again," Karin de Fine Licht, a lawyer for the church told the paper.

Ten frozen bodies are already waiting to be buried as soon as the new method is approved, the paper said.

Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh and her company Promessa have specialised in the freeze-drying method, and the company has applied for patents in 35 countries.

The Church of Sweden holds a five percent stake in Promessa alongside Wiigh's 42 percent. Industrial gases company AGA Gas, part of Germany's Linde group, has taken a controlling stake of 53 percent in the company.

Promessa has promoted the idea of using the human remains, like compost, to feed plants and shrubs.

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