PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Without fanfare, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Dec. 30 signed a bill legalizing Natural Organic Reduction (NOR), also called “human composting,” in New York State.
The governor’s signature on the legislation, which passed 98-52 in the Assembly, and 61-2 in the Senate, allows NOR facilities to “operate as cemetery corporations for the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil.”
The New York State Catholic Conference expressed “regret” that human composting is now legal in the state. The Catholic Conference represents the Bishops of New York State in public policy matters.
The conference had argued against NOR and urged Gov. Hochul to veto the bill legalizing it. The bishops asserted that human composting ignores the “dignity due the deceased.”
NOR is a multi-step process in which the body — wrapped in a shroud and placed on a bed of organic material — enters a sealed “vessel” where decomposition ensues. The body becomes soil, suitable for fertilizer, in about 4-to-6 weeks.
NOR supporters say it is an eco-friendly alternative to cemetery burials or cremation. For example, Environment Advocates of New York claimed the production of coffins eats 30 million feet of wood, and 90,000 tons of steel, in the U.S. annually. Also, a single cremation consumes 28 gallons of fuel, the group said.
Dennis Poust, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, said in a Jan. 2 statement that composting is associated with discarding organic waste from homes or farms. He said such material typically is “repurposed as fertilizer for gardens or crops.
“But human bodies are not household waste; they are vessels of the soul,” Poust added. “Therefore, the bishops of New York State do not believe the process meets the standard of reverent treatment of earthly remains.”
The Roman Catholic Church prefers traditional burials of human remains.
Also, limits on cremation — a practice once opposed by the Church — are in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 2016 bulletin, “Ad Resurgendum cum Christo (To Rise Again with Christ).” Specifically, ashes must be kept together and be buried or interred together, not split among loved ones or “scattered.”
“Just as Church teaching prohibits the scattering or dividing of cremated remains, it would not permit the spreading of composted human remains co-mingled with other organic matter to fertilize a garden,” Poust said in the statement.
“Given this fact,” he added, “the bishops regret that Gov. Hochul has signed this legislation.”
No official statement accompanied the governor’s signature, nor did she respond to The Tablet’s requests for comment. Also, Assembly Member Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), who sponsored the bill, was unavailable for comment.
New York is the sixth U.S. state to legalize NOR. The others are California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.