Society for Serving Seniors, an NGO in Secunderabad recently conducted a small survey asking people (all respondents are retirees above 55) to state how they desire to be disposed off after their death. Out of some 550 people to whom this was circulated, only 26 answered the questionnaire. The main reason for this low response is that old people do not want to discuss death and related issues!
The results for the five options posed are given below:
Disposal Method Number %
Cremation - wood -Traditional 1 3%
Burial, Cemetery 1 3%
Donated to Medical School 12 46%
Cremation, Electrical 12 46%
Thrown into River for fishes 0 0
Mummified & preserved 0 0
In India we continue to have traditional cremation with firewood at burning Ghats and Electric crematoria in State maintained funeral homes. The latter have come up in recent years. We being tradition bound, most people may not like to mess up with death related activities, I thought. However, much to my surprise, I find that 46% of people want to donate their bodies for medical schools and organ donation. Another 46% prefer Electric cremation but only a small percentage prefer to go in for Traditional firewood cremation. Persons opting for burial constitute just 3%.
Burial is fraught with extensive land being put to dead use. Land costs are sky rising and it is difficult to find more and more land to be allocated for burial grounds. At any point of time the total number of dead persons will always be increasing compared to people who are alive. Have you not heard the phrase 'joining the Majority' meaning 'ceasing to be'? Therefore burial as a mode of disposal of the dead body should be done away with. As this is connected with religious sentiments, it is difficult but worth trying.
Electrical cremation is fast and relatively pollution free. Problem of bad smell is also eliminated. But they are power intensive. Findings of this survey call for establishing more electric crematoria. NGOs concerned with organ harvesting should increase their marketing activities and reach the right type of people so that Living Wills could be made properly.
That many persons are willing to donate their bodies after death for useful purposes is very encouraging. As already indicated most people are vary of entertaining any talk about death. And death related customs and rituals are adhered to more out of social pressure than out of free will to follow. Being ready to donate one's body for medical research involves courage and convictions. This happy trend must be encouraged by proper sensitization of senior citizens. This can be achieved through Senior Citizen Associations and NGOs working for elders.