Can I View an Unembalmbed Body

Can I View an Unembalmbed Body

aCremation often gets asked if it is possible to view an unbembalmed body.  In most cases – yes – if held soon after the death occurs. It’s important to remember that decomposition begins immediately. The longer the time between death and the viewing, the greater the chance that viewing will not be recommended.

Viewings when selecting Direct Cremation

By definition,* direct cremation does not involve a formal viewing. Instead, the family may request an identification viewing, or ID viewing. Most cremation service providers offer ID viewings. Each funeral home or cremation service provider will determine whether there is a fee or not based on the specific situation.

A true ID viewing is held when there is no family, close friend, or trusted medical worker present at the time of death. This commonly occurs when a person died unexpectedly and was taken directly to the medical examiner. Typically this involves one or two family members identifying the body in person at the funeral home or crematory. Many find this is helpful in the family’s grieving process but also beneficial to the crematory to confirm no error in identification has been made.

In cases where a close or trusted person was present at the time of death, the family still may request an ID viewing. Typically, there is a fee associated with this service since initial identification has already been made. This form of ID viewing is frequently used by close families members who were not present at the time of death and feel seeing the deceased will aid them in their grieving process. These viewings are typically only a few minutes and limited to a small number of people.

Should a family want to hold a formal viewing with visitation hours, many traditional funeral homes will accommodate this at a set fee and typically only after embalming occurs.

There are other options

In a majority of deaths, there is a trusted person present to positively identify the person so a viewing is not necessary. Positive identification is made at the time of death and an identification band is placed on the body which will remain on the deceased until cremation occurs. The other widely-used method is for the family to provide a recent photo with a physical description. A funeral director or crematory manager then uses the photo and description to verify the identity on behalf of the family.

What to expect

It is important to know an ID viewing is different than what most people have experienced during a traditional funeral or formal viewing. ID viewings do not include cosmetic improvements (also called restorative art) made to the deceased. The body is typically cleaned and placed on a table covered with a sheet other than the face. It is truly meant for identification only. Depending on the condition of the deceased at the time of death, some may find this disturbing. Our experience is that knowing up-front how the body is presented helps prepared loved ones so the experience is a positive one.

There are times when a funeral director will not recommend an ID viewing and suggest an alternative ID method. When this occurs, families should seriously consider taking their advice. Funeral Directors are trained, licensed professionals who are concerned about the family, not just the deceased. If there is serious injury to the deceased or if the deceased is in an advanced state of decomposition, it is their responsibility to let the family know that the body is no longer in a condition where it should be seen in an unembalmed state. In these cases, using a photo and/or unique physical characteristics is the best approach, unless the family wishes to have their loved one embalmed.

* As defined by the Texas State Funeral Commission.

Mary Beth Barnett
Mary Beth Barnett
mary.beth.barnett@acremation.com

Mary Beth Barnett is a licensed Funeral Director in Texas. Her involvement with aCremation began before our doors opened – researching how we could provide affordable cremations and still keep quality and service standards high. Through this process, she developed a passion for working with families who are going through one of the most stressful phases of life – planning for death.

4 Comments
  • James
    Posted at 15:15h, 08 February Reply

    Is there a difference in the location of the main arterial incesiion for a woman vs a man? I’ve seen several embalming videos and they look different. If so, why? I’m completely fascinated by this.

    • Mary Beth Barnett
      Mary Beth Barnett
      Posted at 11:11h, 13 February Reply

      Thank you for your question James. I’ll try to give you an answer but it is not as simple as you might think. Let’s assume for this that both the male and female deceased are equal in size, nature of death, age, etc. then yes the human body has generally the same circulatory system for both males and females. In this perfect case scenario, the right carotid artery (right side of the neck just inside the clavicle) is the most practical for the injection site as it’s the largest superficial artery and closest to the heart. However, many times an embalmer will decide where is the best entrance into the body for arterial embalming based on the condition of the body so each case will most likely be different. Additionally, many times the embalmer will use the femoral artery on a female as the incision in the neck might be visible with certain styles of dresses. Bottom line is that each and every embalming case is different and therefore there is not a specific correct incision placement. Hope that helps!

  • Michael
    Posted at 14:48h, 05 April Reply

    We had a friend that was charge 300.00 dollars to view the body of her boyfriend. Just recently my daughter in-law past away and the family was charge 300.00 dollars to view the body. Is this normal because I have never been charge to view a body of a family member.

    • Mary Beth Barnett
      Mary Beth Barnett
      Posted at 15:55h, 06 April Reply

      The short answer to whether someone can view an unembalmed deceased is Yes. However, there are many factors that the funeral director needs to advise the family about before viewing. Some of these factors are the condition of the deceased, the odor and discoloration, and how the person passed away. As for whether a funeral home can charge for this service is also Yes. Moving and positioning the deceased for the viewing, the use of the room for the viewing, and others are reasons for this charge, although some funeral homes might not charge for this but it is strictly up to the funeral home. There is not a standard, or law in Texas, that states that a funeral home can or cannot charge for viewing an unembalmed deceased. I hope this helps. Our best to you and your family.

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