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What Happens to Medical Devices During Cremation?

In yesterday’s post, we talked about what happens to the deceased’s possessions when cremation is chosen. As we explained, personal possessions like wedding rings, watches, glasses and other items the family requests are removed from the body by the funeral director before the cremation casket is sealed and the body is transported to the crematory for cremation. These items are returned to the family. But what happens to pacemakers, artificial limbs, replaced hip joints or knee sockets, and the host of other medical devices that commonly aid us during life as our bodies age?

Nearly all these medical devices remain a part of the body during cremation. It is neither necessary nor required by law that these devices that were such an integral part of life be removed in death. The body remains intact and is cremated as a whole. Pacemakers are the sole exception. Because pacemakers can explode under the high temperatures necessary for cremation –  1600 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit —  by law, they must be removed from the body prior to cremation to prevent potential injury to crematory workers or damage to the cremation chamber.

My father used a pacemaker to regulate his heartbeat during the final decade of his life. When he died, the funeral home explained the need to remove his pacemaker before cremation. Our family chose to hold an open casket visitation to allow our extended and far-flung family to pay their respects to Dad say their final goodbyes. The funeral home removed Dad’s pacemaker during preparation of his body for the visitation. They did not need to remove his artificial knee sockets or the surgical steel “bone” necessitated by a shattered ankle. The medical marvels that kept Dad together and became an integral part of his body as he aged remained with him in death and were cremated as part of his body. Only the pacemaker was removed, though there was no indication visible when we said our last farewells.

When the body is cremated, despite the extremely high temperatures involved, some medical devices, which are designed to last a lifetime and created from nearly indestructible metal alloys, will remain intact. These are removed from the cremains before final processing so as not to damage the processor or present a risk of injury to the processor operator. What the family receives back in the cremation urn they have selected are the human, biological cremains of their departed loved one.

3 Responses to “What Happens to Medical Devices During Cremation?”

  1. Trevor Stewart says:

    ‘Because pacemakers can explode under the high temperatures…’

    I think the major reason that pacemakers are removed is not a fear of explosion… pacemakers are small and contain very little, but that some pacemakers (especially early models) contain plutonium. Some pacemakers used a radioisotope thermoelectric generator for long “battery life”. The high temperatures reached during cremation could potentially breach the source, and contamination may occur.

  2. Gretchen says:

    What do you then do with the indestructible metal or ceramic parts? Are they recycled somehow?

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