Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the bill number, SB105
AUSTIN (KXAN) — One universal experience every person on this planet will experience is death. So what do you want to happen to your body after you die?
If your response is cremation, you are not alone. In recent years, cremation has become the most common method of post-mortem body disposition, growing from around 34% in 2006 to 57.5% of the roughly 3.4 million Americans who died in 2021, according to the Cremation Association of North America.
There are two types of cremation offered in the U.S. The more common method is flame-based, in which a body is placed into an extremely hot chamber and, after around two hours, will turn into ash and mineral fragments. Then there is alkaline hydrolysis or “water cremation,” which uses hot water, alkaline chemicals and pressure to break a body down in four to five hours.
The Cremation Association of North America said the latter is gentler, more environmentally friendly and yields more remains compared to flame-based cremation. Despite its favorable reputation to some, water cremation is illegal in over 20 states, including Texas. SB105, filed by State Sen. Nathan Johnson, is hoping to change that.
Eric Neuhaus, the founder of Green Cremation Texas, offers flame-based and water cremations. Because of Texas law, his company must fly a body out of state for it to have the alkaline hydrolysis treatment. Neuhaus said, taking into account the carbon emissions to fly a body from Texas to Missouri — where it is legal — and back, water cremation is still more environmentally friendly than flame-based cremation.
He thinks the laws in Texas should be changed to allow people post-mortem to be cremated by alkaline hydrolysis.
“I frankly find it embarrassing that Texas is so far behind with this,” Neuhaus said. “I think that it is important for every single Texan – no matter race, religion or creed – to be able to have the option to choose this.”
Previous Texas bills on water cremation
SB105 is not the first bill of its kind aimed at allowing water cremation to be utilized in the state. In the past five years, there have been several bills drafted in previous legislative sessions with similar goals.
“As more momentum builds behind [the bill], those kinds of obstructions get moved out of the way. Why any group of people should be able to have such influence, not only over life but over death, should be able to affect the desire of how I want my body to be disposed of is beyond me,” Johnson said.
One organization that does not think alkaline hydrolysis should be legal in the state is the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.
“We will continue to oppose these bills,” said Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops. “Alkaline hydrolysis fails to treat the body with dignity and respect,” she told KXAN.
Neuhaus said he respects the position of the organization, but “if they personally don’t like it, or they feel like water cremation is disrespectful to the body, then they are under no obligation to choose alkaline hydrolysis. But it’s important for me — it’s very important for me — for families to at least have that option and exercise their rights to freedom when it comes to body disposition.”
Allmon said her organization also opposes water cremation because the water may be dumped in sewers following the cremation.
In response, Neuhaus said the wastewater or effluent discharged from alkaline hydrolysis is beneficial to sewage systems.
“In the states where alkaline hydrolysis is legal, the local water authorities have been on record that the microbiological organisms in the effluent are tremendously helpful to the system and they welcome it.”
Johnson said he feels his water cremation bill has a good chance of passing this session. He said it often takes three to four sessions before something introduced passes and becomes law.
“It’s frankly offensive that any group of people would venture so far into the private decisions of others,” Johnson said. “I think perhaps this is the session we move it through.”