Death can be an ugly business: accidents can mangle the body
and face, illness can disfigure, distort and destroy. If friends and relatives
want to see the departed loved-one before burial or cremation, it’s often
necessary to use make-up. Sometimes wounds have to be disguised or concealed,
which can be a difficult task even for the most experienced funeral director.
What do you do if an ear or nose is missing, for example, or someone’s face has
been badly injured?
A funeral business in China has found an answer. It’s using
very modern technology to solve this very old problem. Using 3D printing, the
Longhua funeral home in Shanghai can create realistically coloured body parts
that allow the departed person to look as they should: calm and dignified in
death, not disfigured or wounded. Friends and relatives won’t see anything
distressing and won’t take bad memories from the funeral. Even if the departed
person needs their entire face reconstructing, the funeral home can use photographs
from life to programme the printer and create something that doesn’t look
unnatural or artificial.
And the cost isn’t exorbitant. A face-reconstruction might
cost about £500; printing an ear or nose will obviously be much less. Will this
technique be taken up in other countries? There seems no good reason that it
won’t. Funeral businesses in America and Europe are already using 3D printing
to create urns and busts. And why not coffins and headstones too? This will add
a new dimension to funeral work in more ways than one: before the 3D printer
sets to work, funeral directors and their customers will be able to see the
intended object on a screen from all possible angles. They will be able to make
whatever changes they like in shape and colour.
Once they’re happy with what they see, the 3D printing can
commence. New technology will permit more choice, provide more convenience and
allow customers to make funerals even more individual. Up till now, if someone
has wanted an elaborate customized coffin or headstone, they will have had to
use a skilled craftsman and pay a lot of money. That will change. Just as we
can now design a funeral card or order-of-service on screen, getting the script
and words exactly right before we print, so in the near future we’ll be able to
design the three-dimensional objects of a funeral.
Perhaps people will print flowers and even select suitable
scents for them, making sure that every detail of a funeral is exactly as they
want it to be. Using virtual reality, it might even become common for people to
experience the funeral before it actually takes place. Will the music be right?
Will the coffin look good against a backdrop of white roses? And so on.
Computer-aided design has revolutionized many other areas of
business and commerce, from manufacturing to publishing, and the news from
China is a sign that the funeral business will be revolutionized in its turn.
Funeral directors will offer many more options and customers will have much
more choice. The end of life will still often be ugly, but new technology will
give us more power to respond.