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Williams Lake man pushes for a more gentle return to earth burial

Aquamation is legal in many jurisdications, but in B.C. it can only be used for disposal of animals
Stuart Westie, who used to swim every day at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex, is hoping to give his remains back to the water after he dies, if B.C. changes legislation to make it legal. (Black Press Media photo)

A Williams Lake man is hoping the B.C. government makes changes to a law soon, so he can have the return to earth he wants after he dies.

Stuart Westie, a retired teacher, is in his 70s and is making arrangements for when he passes, but at this point, his preferred choice to dispose of his remains is illegal in B.C.

Before he would be able to choose the option he wants, however, the Cemetery, Internment and Funeral Services Act in B.C. would have to be changed to add alkaline hydrolysis, also known as aquamation, to the existing options of burial or cremation.

A group calling themselves the Aquamation BC Coalition have been pushing for the process to be legalized for over six years. The group has an online petition with 3,120 signatures in support of the legalization of the process at the time of writing.

Westie is frustrated by what he sees as a stalling by government and wants to see the changes happen sooner rather than later.

“You’re not putting me in a box,” said Westie, confessing he is claustrophobic. He had planned to be cremated but the more he thought about it, the less he liked this idea. The use of a large amount of fossil fuels to burn his remains seemed ridiculous to someone who has spent over a decade reducing his carbon footprint.

“They’d better hurry up or I’ll be sending my body to another province,” said Westie, joking someone will have to bike his body to Saskatchewan if the law is not changed in time. The process is legal in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland/Labrador and the Northwest Territories but in B.C. it is only legal for the disposal of animal remains.

Westie was an avid swimmer for many years of his retirement, swimming every day until a shoulder injury sidelined him. But he still loves a hot bath.

“What would you sooner do, sit in a hot bath or jump in a barbecue,” asked Westie.

The process uses heat, water and alkaline solution of potassium hydroxide to turn the human body into liquid solution, leaving behind some bones and any medical or dental implants.

Cremation, meanwhile, uses natural gas to burn human remains, and releases an average of over 225 kgs of greenhouse gases to incinerate one human body and destroys most medical implants as well as releasing mercury from dental fillings, according to researchers.

The process of aquamation requires a fraction of the fossil fuels cremation does. It also has other environmental benefits, say advocates.

Any medical implants and dental fillings are recoverable and recyclable after aquamation and a study from 2018 determined high-temperature alkaline hydrolysis appears to destroy all infectious agents in a six-hour process. Bone pieces would also remain and as in flame cremation, these are processed into a powdered ash and can be put in an urn.

The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General (PSSG), Hon. Mike Farnworth’s office, responded to an inquiry regarding why the process is not yet available in B.C. by stating a change to current legislation would require additional research and engagement with municipal and industry stakeholders.

The statement did also say policy work which “could inform future amendments” to legislation regarding human remains has started, but essentially are not a current priority.

“I have tremendous appreciation for my body. It has served me very well and I would like to treat it with respect,” said Westie, who spent much of his life coaching athletics during his teaching career.

“It should be my choice as it already is for the majority of Canadians. For me, the clock is ticking.”

He brought his request to the local NDP committee, and has since presented to the regional NDP standing committee on the environment and economy, an internal NDP committee, hoping to encourage the party to make it policy.

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Ruth Lloyd

About the Author: Ruth Lloyd

I moved back to my hometown of Williams Lake after living away and joined the amazing team at the Williams Lake Tribune in 2021.
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