Take hard look at outdated death rites

The editorial on the evolution of attitudes towards death rites is timely (Death rites keep pace with change; April 17).

In the age of modern science and in a digital smart city environment, it is time to take a look at death and death rites.

We are brought up to be afraid to talk about death and we perform death rituals which have no relevance to our modern lifestyle.

I would like to point out some "illogical" rituals that can perhaps be changed.

Now that we are cremating instead of burying our dead, we need to rethink our selection of coffins.

In the past when burials were more prevalent, coffins were made to resist rotting in the ground. Expensive materials were used to make coffins as solid as possible.

Now, for cremation, coffins should be made as light and inflammable as possible to be easily consumed by fire and quickly reduced to ashes. For example, coffins should be made of cardboard instead of hard wood and metal.

To remember the good features of the deceased, we now have beautiful lifelike portraits of them.

There should be no need to eviscerate, dissect or pump the body with formaldehyde and toxic chemicals which will pollute the environment.

A beautiful portrait is also a better way to remember our loved ones than ashes stashed in a corner in a columbarium.

It is more sensible to sprinkle the ashes, where it will be recycled naturally, and the deceased will really be able to "rest in peace".

There are so many more logical and sensible ways to replace old death rituals, if we take the trouble to think about them.

We need to dispel the taboo surrounding death, and be more realistic in facing death instead of being afraid of it.

Death and birth are natural events in life. They should be dealt with sensibly and logically, instead of being concealed under a cloud of superstition and rituals.

Let us get rid of some irrelevant rituals and move on to live the lifestyle relevant to a modern smart city.

George Wong Seow Choon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2018, with the headline 'Take hard look at outdated death rites'. Print Edition | Subscribe