Alleviating the Cost of Dying

By Katrina Hernandez

Dying has never been so expensive. There’s end-of-life care, the transfer of remains, and other service fees — all before the cost of disposing of the body. How you choose to be laid to rest can be an added stress to family during an already tragic time. There are three main types of end-of-life services, each of which brings unique benefits and associated costs:

Funeral and burial. While the most traditional practice, this is the most time-intensive and expensive option. However, its therapeutic benefits are important for the loved ones of the deceased. It’s a time to remember, honor, respect, and celebrate life, taking place within a few days of passing. For almost all of human history, this has been key for grieving survivors.

On average, a traditional funeral cost $7,360. And while people are increasingly choosing nontraditional options — cremation is becoming more popular — traditional funeral and burial costs aren’t getting any cheaper. The cost has increased by 38.1 percent from the average funeral in 2004, breaking down as follows:

Basic service fees include body removal, embalming, other body preparations, use of the funeral home’s facilities for a viewing and ceremony, a hearse, memorial package, and casket. That average cost of $7,360 assumes you choose the most basic options for all of the above services. Many families make more elaborate plans that can run well over $10,000. For some, it’s well worth it. For others, the cost is simply not feasible.



Funeral and cremation. In many instances, the funeral holds more importance than the burial itself, which adds the expenses of the casket, cemetery plot, and upkeep of the burial grounds. For these families, cremation is a good alternative, and has increased in popularity in recent years. It’s become more acceptable as ties to religious and cultural traditions become weaker and we move toward a more environmentally conscious society. According to the Cremation Association of North America, saving money, conserving land, and a simpler process for the family rank among the top reasons for cremation.

However, while cost-saving measures are a top consideration for cremation, in reality, it isn’t much cheaper. The National Funeral Directors Association reports the median cost of a funeral with cremation to be about $1,100 less than traditional burials.

Still, the choice allows for more flexibility in service planning. Families can host a traditional viewing and funeral with the body or have the remains cremated first and wait weeks or even months before a memorial. This ease of immediate burden can be extremely valuable to families already in the throes of a stressful time.

Whole body donation links individuals who want to advance research and education, with doctors and researchers who need human tissue. Donor tissue allows surgeons to practice, without injury to living patients, and scientists to identify and develop life-changing therapies. In Science Care’s program, one cadaver can impact up to 11 areas of training and research.

The knowledge of their loved one’s selfless last act may help survivors after passing. Without financial strain and other stressors, loved ones can focus on their grieving process. Most whole body donation programs work with the facility where the death occurred to handle paperwork, transportation, and logistics at no cost to the family. The registration process is quick and simple, often taking place in advance of death by phone and email.

Tissue not utilized for research and education is cremated and returned to the family. At Science Care, this happens within two to five weeks. With cremation as the final disposal process, whole body donation is also environmentally conscious. For some, knowing they will help both the earth and future of human health is a major benefit when deciding what will happen after they pass on.

At Science Care, we join families as they remember their loved one. Following the donation, we update them on some of the research projects we support and plant a tree in their honor.

The hefty costs of funerals and burials along with the forward-thinking, disruptive nature of modern generations (Millennials have spurred the “death-positive movement,” which encourages speaking openly about death, dying, and corpses) are already causing a shift in how we choose to be laid to rest. Thankfully there are options like whole body donation, which cater to a variety of needs, we can turn to.

Katrina Hernandez is VP of Donor Services for Science Care.

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