Cremation Funeral Industry News

Missouri’s “Jedi Bill” Paves the Way for Open-Air Cremations

June 26, 2019

Missouri’s “Jedi Bill” Paves the Way for Open-Air Cremations

If Missouri Senator Jason Holsman has his way, he’ll be cremated atop an open-air outdoor pyre worthy of a Jedi master or Darth Vader’s cybernetic armor.

In April Holsman introduced Bill 455, proposing that the group approve statewide outdoor cremations. The bill was quickly nicknamed the “Jedi Disposal Act” after a scene in the movie The Phantom Menace in which Luke Skywalker supervises the cremation of Qui-Gon Jinn. Skywalker also cremated the armored suit of his father Anakin — a.k.a. Vader — in Return of the Jedi.

Viking funerals

It wasn’t the Star Wars connection that sparked Holsman’s interest in outdoor cremation, though. Instead, it was his Viking ancestry.

“I happen to come from a northern Germanic tribe,” Holsman said. While exploring his Viking roots, he looked into outdoor cremation.

“I found out there is no process because it isn’t legal to do,” he said.

His fellow senators initially envisioned the chaos of bodies burning atop backyard bonfires. However, the bill’s provision that the cremations could only be performed by licensed funeral directors calmed their fears. Holsman said that a well-timed mass cremation scene in HBO’s Game of Thrones’ last season also helped his cause. 

Game of Thrones open-air mass cremation

Specifically, the bill dictates “only a licensed funeral director, or a person with a limted license for cremation […] shall perform a cremation at any funeral establishment, including an outdoor human cremation facility.” The bill also defines outdoor human cremation facility as one that “is outdoors where the technical heating process which reduces remains to bone fragments through heat and evaporation occurs.”

Out in the open-air

At this time there is only one such facility in the United States can perform legal outdoor cremations. Located in Crestone, Colorado, the site is operated by the Crestone End Of Life Project, a non-denominational community organization that helps locals make “informed end-of-life choices.”

Crestone’s organization describes open-air cremation as an “ancient and inspirational end-of-life choice.” They say that the process involves only “a pyre, a half-cord of wood, a wooden stretcher, and a shroud.”

Colorado open-air cremation

Good Ground Great Beyond, a non-profit group based in midcoast Maine, would like to legalize open-air cremations in that state as well. The organization owns 63 acres of land which they intend to eventually “become a contemplative community sanctuary […] and space for open air cremation.”

A growing trend?

Senator Holsman told the Missouri News Network he’s pushing the bill because everyone “should be able to dispose of our remains how you see fit.”

That’s exactly what motivated Davender Ghai. In 2010 Ghai sued the British government for permission for his family to perform an open-air cremation at his death. Ghai, who is Hindu, believed that “a pyre is essential to a good death and the release of his spirit into the afterlife.” Initially denied, he finally won upon appeal in a decision that The Guardian wrote was “paving the way for thousands of fellow Hindus to follow suit.”

As green funeral practices gain momentum, look for more states to argue for open-air cremation.  A study by UK scientist Ivan Vance found that “funeral pyres on woodland sites would have a zero carbon footprint.” The environmentally-friendly practice poses “negligible health risks to the public 500m from the pyres.”

Bill 455 is currently awaiting final approval by the governor of Missouri.