Caring for the body

Caring for the body of the person who has died

English law safeguards the rights of people to treat their dead according to their own religion and culture.

Be mindful that it is your right to care the body of someone who has died in the privacy of your own or someone else’s home, no matter if a post-mortem has been performed on the body.

For detailed guidance about caring for the body whether you are or are not hiring an undertaker, I point you to ‘Undertaken with Love’. This is an excellent guide produced by an American group of volunteers.  I have not yet located an equivalent comparison produced by anyone in the UK but I am reliably informed by Claire at “Only With Love” which is part of the UK Home Funeral Network, that one will be made available sometime in the near future.

The Natural Death Centre gives independent advice on caring for the body of someone who has died.

If you decide to hire the services of an undertaker to care for the body of the person who has died, please see the “The Funeral” section of this website.


Some people choose to use embalming (also called ‘hygienic treatment’) to preserve the body. Embalming uses chemicals, some of which – like formaldehyde – are toxic.

Historically, the embalming process was to preserve the body from decay but the current use of the word refers generally to the cosmetic appearance of the person who has died and to slow the deterioration in the short period prior to the funeral. Embalming isn’t a legal requirement in the UK.

The process itself involves the removal of the body fluids, replacing them with a solution of about 2% formaldehyde, which often contains a pink dye. The body fluids are treated and disposed of via the public sewer. Formaldehyde is an irritant and volatile acid, the long-term effects of which in air quality, when the body is then cremated and in soil and soil organisms when the body is buried, have not yet received further independent research.

There is no evidence that a body poses a threat to the living, except where the death was due to a notifiable disease and in those cases embalming is not allowed anyway. Embalmers suggest that the process thoroughly disinfect the body removing any risk to any person who may come into contact with the body. However no evidence exists of undertakers, crematorium or cemetery staff obtaining an infection from an un-embalmed body. It would be logical to assume that if a real health risk existed embalming would be a legal requirement.

Obviously only people with a qualified skill can embalm a body, but after this process is completed, it is your right to return the body to a domestic environment.