Embalming is defined as the preservation of a body from decay, originally with spices, and more recently through arterial injection of embalming fluid.
Historically, the process is identified with the Egyptians, and the mummification of bodies. In fact, this complicated and extreme method was abandoned, although in recent centuries, ways of preserving bodies has received considerable attention. Varying levels of success were achieved, but probably due to expense, they were utilised by very few people.
In the past thirty years, the commercial promotion of embalming has greatly increased. There has also been an increase in the use of unqualified embalmers over this period. Embalming is particularly evident amongst larger commercial funeral directors in urban locations. Conversely, the process is less common in rural areas where small funeral directing businesses predominate. This is, in part, due to them lacking the facilities necessary to embalm the body. Also, some funeral directors appear to oppose the process.
The current use of the word “embalming” is misleading. The process is generally referred to as cosmetic embalming. It is used to improve the visual appearance of the body, and to prevent deterioration in the period leading up to the funeral.
It has no long-term preservative value, and cannot be compared with the Egyptian concept of preserving bodies.
The decision as to the merits of embalming must lie with the individual, although a number of issues should be considered.