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A New Funeral Dimension

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.