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What is Promession?

Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze a body as part of the first step of promession.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 June 2014
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Promession is an alternative to cremation which is designed to process human remains so that they can be easily mulched back into the Earth. The process was developed by Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, a Swedish biologist who wanted to find a respectful and ecological way to handle human remains. The concept has met with some opposition, because it represents a novel approach to handling the burial process.

The first step in promession freezes the body in a vat of liquid nitrogen, making it very brittle. Next, the body is gently broken apart with ultrasonic vibration, creating a damp powder which is dried and then packaged in a small biodegradable coffin. Since the bulk of human weight is water and this water is removed during the freeze drying process, the promains are relatively light. They will also remain odorless as long as they are kept dry.

Once survivors collect the promains, they can bury them and plant a memorial tree, plant, or garden over them. As the promains get wet, they will naturally decompose, composting the earth and providing nourishment to the garden. The intent of the process is to return to the earth, rather than being isolated in a coffin with preservatives.

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Unlike cremation, promession does not release toxins into the environment through burning. After the body has been broken apart, medical devices, mercury fillings, and other potential contaminants are removed for recycling. Promains are also very nourishing for plants, and they are meant to evoke a time when humans were allowed to decay naturally after death, thus continuing the cycle of life. Human remains can also be disposed of in a green burial, unembalmed and in a biodegradable coffin or shroud, but promession allows family members to transport remains, if desired, or to distribute them in multiple places.

A facility which offers promession services is known as a promatorium. The legality of the process was still being argued in several nations as of 2007, but several promatoriums were scheduled to open in both Sweden and the United Kingdom by 2008. Each promatorium facility will have at least one promator for handling remains, and the facility may offer other green burial services as well.

Natural burial and more ecological ways of handling death are a topic of interest for many people who are concerned about the environment. Promession is only one such option, designed to illustrate that there is an alternative and healthy way to handle human remains.

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Discuss this Article

anon951220
Post 6

What of bacterial and viral contamination? Some of these will survive the freezing, ultrasound, dehydration process. Theoretically would it it be a dehydrated biohazard until it was broken down to soil?

anon291576
Post 5

I don't want to be freeze-dried because I want my bones to be found millions of years in the future.

anon160408
Post 4

Is there anywhere in the U.S. that does this? I can see this as a real money maker for the funeral industry. Instead of selling a plot, why not rent it for a couple of years. Then come back pick up the tree (bush) and transplant it in your back yard. If nobody comes back for the tree, the cemetery transplants it somewhere else. Either way, the land is freed up to use again.

anon86873
Post 3

The remains are buried like a normal coffin in the cemetery, only on a shallow grave. Remains turn to soil in less than a year, and the plant is there to fasten the process. The inventor has said she wants a white rhododendron on her grave. In many countries like mine (Finland), there are strict rules like ashes must be buried in the cemetery; it is not possible to scatter them anywhere. RicHard-59

amypollick
Post 2

@Merentia: I think the idea is the promains can be interred anywhere: a garden, a cemetery, in a body of water, etc. As with cremains, it would be up to the family to decide what to do with their loved one's promains. Because the promains are completely biodegradable, the place of internment can serve other purposes.

merentia
Post 1

my question is regarding the burial of the promains. "Once survivors collect the promains, they can bury them and plant a memorial tree, plant, or garden over them." If i understood well, the promains are not buried in a cemetery and in that way, we save up valuable land. Or is it that the promains should be buried in a cemetery? If cemeteries are involved how can we save up land? it is mentioned that promains are buried at shallow depth, but where?

could you please enlighten me on this?

thank you very much.

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