Cadavers, Cremation and Pressure Cookers – Stiff: the curious lives of Human Cadavers

Like it or not, we will all become one – a cadaver that is. Barring a zombie apocalypse or a non-messy rapture – sooner or later we will need to worry about what to do with our cadaver (okay technically, we don’t have to worry about what to do with OUR cadaver – but someone will).

Roach has written a good book with a good combination of tongue in cheek versus respect for the corporeal conundrum of cadavers. She walks through the use of cadavers as learning tools for physicians. She takes a swipe at the grisly details when there are not enough cadavers to learn from and you need to snatch one or two. And, she also discusses how cadavers are used as real crash test dummies – so as to do things like calibrate crash test dummies.

I found the book very engaging at the beginning but died a bit toward the end. I guess it is hard to maintain life in a story about cadavers. Nevertheless, Roach also explores an interesting new method of cadaver-disposal: composting or chemical-cremation.

Basically a corpse (human, animal or otherwise) is put into a vat along with a de-composition solution (mostly lye). From there it is pressure cooked and the ‘….equipment can dissolve the tissue of a corpse and reduce it to 2 or 3 percent of its body weight. What remains is a pile of decollagenated bones that can be crumbled in one’s fingers…. “In effect, it’s a pressure cooker with Drano” ‘. The upside of chemical-cremation is that valuable land is not used to store corpses (not to mention the expense and waste of resources for coffin, cement liners, etc.) and mercury from our fillings does not fill the atmosphere from regular cremation.

Chemical-cremation may be the way to go although it is not clear whether you can pay extra for the soylent green option.

Roach has written a very approachable book about the practical problem of what to do when you are done with your body. Some parts are a bit more graphic than others, so be wary. Nevertheless, she never loses sight of the fact that the corpse was a person and she treats that aspect with great respect. Stiff is a great vacation book while being buried in the sand by your family.