Care for the Elderly: ‘Body Farms’ as a Final Resting Place | Elderly care


Karen Kaslow Keystone Elder Law

Contemplating death is not a popular pastime, but there are signs that death and dying are beginning to emerge from the shadows.

Until the mid-1800s, American families dealt with their own deaths. Death took place at home, after which the women took care of the body while the men built a coffin (usually six-sided and tapered at the foot) and dug a grave in the yard or in the nearby family cemetery. A wake was common while the body was laid in the house before burial. Friends and neighbors helped the grieving family with all of these responsibilities. Specific rituals between the time of death and burial were influenced by ethnicity, religious beliefs, and family financial status.

The Civil War contributed to the increase in embalming, as families wanted the bodies of their soldiers returned to them. The logistics of time, storage and transportation of large numbers of bodies led to the payment of non-family members to provide these services, which over time evolved into the funeral industry as we know it. know today.

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For many years, funeral homes were expected to embalm the dead, assist families and friends of the deceased in churches or at the funeral home, and manage subsequent burials in public cemeteries. Americans are now showing changes in their end-of-life planning desires.

According to the Stanford School of Medicine, 80% of Americans want to die at home. In fact, only 20% do. Acute care hospitals are where 60% of the population die, while nursing homes account for the remaining 20%.

The goal of a return to personalized end-of-life care has been one of the driving forces behind the development of palliative care services. Palliative care has continued to evolve since its introduction in the United States in the 1960s, but it remains an often misunderstood and underutilized service.

What happens once an individual’s organs stop working also becomes increasingly personalized and less predictable. From options for sharing your body for the direct benefit of another individual or the advancement of scientific knowledge to methods of handling a body, type of gathering for family and friends, and final disposal of remains ; the choices are varied. Considering all the options may take a bit of thought and research.

Let’s start with a choice that will have an immediate effect on the plan of a body after death. Would you like your body to be used for other purposes when you die? This column has previously covered topics such as organ donation and donating your body for medical education. Did you know that your body can also be donated for another type of scientific study?

If you love crime stories or have ever heard tales of people who suffered natural or unnatural deaths without witnesses and whose bodies were not immediately discovered, you may have wondered how the The individual’s identity, time and cause of death were determined. The field of forensic anthropology provides these answers through research of the human skeleton and the process of human decomposition.

Since 1987, the University of Tennessee has operated the Center for Forensic Anthropology, which was the first of eight “body farms” that now exist in the United States. This program receives more than 100 donor organizations each year, who are then placed in varying environmental conditions to study how humidity, exposure, burial, and even specific health characteristics such as the types of medications taken before the deaths have an impact on the manner and rate of decomposition. The effects of decomposition on the surrounding natural environment are also studied.

Additional body farms in the United States include:

  • Forensic Osteology Research Station (FOREST) ​​at Western Carolina University
  • The Center for Forensic Anthropology (FARF) at Texas State University
  • Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility (STAFS Facility) at Sam Houston State University
  • Forensic Anthropology Research Complex (CFAR) at Southern Illinois University
  • The University Colorado Mesa Forensic Research Station (FIRS)
  • Florida Institute of Forensic Anthropology & Applied Science (IFAAS) at the University of South Florida
  • Forensic Research Outdoor Station (FROST) at Northern Michigan University

The idea of ​​a body farm may make some people sickened, but research into these facilities is invaluable for the investigation of crimes, deaths that occurred in unexpected or unusual circumstances, and cultural history. The information provided by forensic anthropologists has an impact for both legal and humanitarian reasons.

A decision about donating for forensic anthropology research can influence an individual’s other end-of-life plans. Organ donation can still take place, but an embalmed body cannot be used for this type of research. These programs cannot accept bodies when certain infectious diseases were present before death, such as hepatitis. The skeletal remains of donated bodies are retained by the program for further research, so unlike organ donation or body donation for medical research, families do not receive any remains.

Whether or not you want to donate all or part of your body after death is just one of the many choices available for end-of-life planning. Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at funeral/memorial services, as well as options for the final disposition of the body.

Find additional articles and resources at or join their “Later in Life Planning and Resources” Facebook group. Keystone Elder Law PC is located in Mechanicsburg. Call 717-697-3223 for a free phone consultation with their Care Coordinator.


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