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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 5.djvu/237

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CREMATION AND ITS ALTERNATIVES.

CREMATION AND ITS ALTERNATIVES.
By GEORGE BAYLES, M. D.

A SUBJECT upon which much earnest thought is concentred is, that method of disposing of the dead which shall be in strict accord with Nature's fixed intentions, and which shall not be delayed, by artificial means, to the obvious detriment of our plainest sanitary necessities. The only legitimate approach to a fair investigation of this subject is by the broad sanitary road. The obstacles are numerous and very serious by any other line of approach. There is a mountain of sentiment, of a very pronounced kind, on one side; a very formidable barrier of custom on the other; a rugged declivity of superstition in another direction, and a quagmire of indifference in another. To level all opposition of reason, prejudice, and superstition, is the work of the sanitarian. The chief appeal must be to that potent and first law of Nature, self-protection; and that law must be so proclaimed that, finally, a wholesome conviction shall take root in the popular mind that the sanitarian is right, and that every thing of a purely ethical and sentimental nature must yield to sounder views and practices than now prevail. This is, then, the true pathway to the right understanding of this subject.

Like all great reforms that have had their conception, their struggle for existence, and their ultimate triumph, any reform that contemplates so radical a change in the treatment of the beloved and respected dead is a work of time, and depends wholly upon an enlightened conception of the subject for its general recognition and popular development.

The placid, benign, and often spiritualized features of the recent dead, doubtless constitute a grave standing-ground of protest against the immediate reduction of the body to the dust and ashes to which the Almighty fiat has condemned it. There is something that savors of more than ignorant superstition in the commonly observed solemn hush in the presence of the body whose spirit has fled, in the super-delicate handling of the corpse by loving survivors, though with these manifestations of affection alone no sympathetic spirit would be inclined to quarrel. The scientific protest is not against the tribute of respect bestowed by sorrowing friends, let it be expressed in ever so many and ofttimes grotesque ways, while the body remains among the living, but, as it can so remain only a very brief period, the scientific protest is against all that in our modern times and civilized communities follows the social leave-taking of the dead.

No available progress can be made in moulding public taste and opinion upon this subject until scientific men are prepared to offer some economical and effectual method which shall be decorous and