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Know Your Options for Final Arrangements

Explore the differences between burial, cremation, and body donation.

When considering final arrangements, most people have 3 options: Burial, Cremation, or Body Donation. Each choice comes with both advantages and disadvantages, and there are many different factors to consider. Cost, family or religious traditions, and personal preference may all affect your ultimate decision.

Anatomical Donation

Many people wish to contribute something positive to the world they will leave behind. Registering to become an organ donor is one way to do this; but when transplant donation isn’t an option, whole-body donation can provide an alternative way to give back. While organ transplants offer the satisfaction of a life immediately saved, whole-body donations have the potential to improve the lives of countless individuals through the medical research, education, and training opportunities they provide. And, with whole-body donation, many programs pay all donation related expenses. Whole-body donation doesn’t allow for traditional funeral viewing services, but families can arrange to hold a memorial service once the ashes are returned.

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Burial

Burial has long been the accepted standard for end of life arrangements in the US. It complies with the funeral customs and traditions of most religious groups, and it provides a physical place for family to visit and remember their loved one. Burial is the most expensive option when it comes to final arrangements. In 2017 a National Funeral Directors Association survey placed the average cost of a traditional burial and funeral at more than $7,000. Burial also has the greatest environmental impact, using large amounts of natural resources such as wood, metal, and land. Embalming chemicals may have an additional negative impact on the environment.

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Cremation

Cremation is on the rise in the United States. An estimated 53% of Americans chose this option in 2018, according to the Cremation Association of North America. The growing popularity of cremation has been attributed both to the lower cost and to its increased acceptance among certain religious groups. Families choosing cremation may still elect to hold a memorial ceremony, and they have a wide variety of options of what to do with their loved one’s ashes afterward. While cremation has been gaining in popularity for several decades, a few religions still discourage the practice, and some families continue to prefer the traditions attached to a standard burial.