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April 10, 2006
EU: Kill The Irish Wake

The European Union's regulative nature may wind up killing off the Irish wake, thanks to a new rule that proposes to ban formaldehyde as an embalming agent. The restrictions on embalming will force caskets to remain closed as the bodies will decompose too much to allow for extended viewing of corpses, the centerpiece of the traditional Irish celebration of the deceased's life:

The Irish custom that sees corpses kept in an open coffin so the deceased can be viewed during the wake has been endangered by an edict issued by Stavros Dimas, the EU environment commissioner.

He wants chemicals used by embalmers to preserve the cadaver withdrawn under a new biocides directive.

Such a move would see the end of the age-old ritual of "laying out" the body while games are played and food and drink are consumed to the accompaniment of dancing and fiddle music. ...

The directive, which would come into effect in September, aims to withdraw embalming ingredients such as formaldehyde, which are capable of destroying living organisms.

Excuse me, but isn't the entire purpose of embalming to destroy living organisms? The preservative nature of embalming relies on the destruction of the bacteria that create decomposition, and formaldehyde does that effectively. Formaldehyde is also used to preserve lab specimens for research and the development of medicines and therapies. Does the EU propose to end formaldehyde for these purposes as well?

Most striking is the nature of the regulation -- an "edict" from a bureaucrat. The EU apparently does not have much concern about regulation through its legislature. That isn't such a stretch from the American agency model, but in this case it seems almost dictatorial. At least one member state will have an issue with this, and one suspects that other predominantly Catholic countries may have the same reservations as Ireland; the rosary is a tradition in most Catholic cultures, and it also involves extended viewing of the deceased. Will the EP take this matter into consideration or allow one bureaucrat to dictate funeral policy to an entire continent?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 10, 2006 6:53 AM

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