Information and Endorsement
The way we say our last goodbyes to our loved ones is important for those left behind; we have an inherent need to acknowledge, and celebrate, their legacy – the only real afterlife there is.
Such goodbyes must surely include respect for their wishes about the treatment of their remains, in terms of both method of disposal, and any form of ceremony.
Whilst it is possible for us to make known, before we die, a choice for cremation, it is as yet impossible for that choice to be respected here without very costly transport to and from abroad. And whilst we can stipulate a non-religious funeral or memorial ceremony, such as those offered by Humanists Malta, there is no available venue, other than the graveside, for such a ceremony to be held in the presence of a body.
Since 1963 the Roman Catholic Church has not prohibited cremation unless chosen as a way to deny Christian teaching. Thus cremation should be a (long-overdue) choice accessible to all, especially now that 5% of the population of Malta don’t identify with any religion; 22% are non-Maltese, from varied cultural backgrounds (including Asian, African, Arab and Hispanic/Latino); and, while 83% of the population identify as Roman Catholic, surveys suggest that nearly half the population are not practising Catholics in any real, committed, sense (for example, no more than 36% of Catholics in Malta attend mass weekly, despite the Church’s rule).
Cremation should bring down the financial burden on families compared to the cost of traditional funerals; be a more eco-friendly alternative to burial; and would reduce the demand on our very limited land area.
With the support of Humanists Malta, cremation services have been legal here since May 2019. But, as of early 2024, Malta has no crematorium. Planning applications are pending, but policy decisions on location, environmental impact, and number of facilities, apparently remain to be reached.
There are two main types of cremation: flame-based cremation, which is more familiar to most; and water cremation (alkaline hydrolysis, biocremation, resomation or aquamation).
In the former, the remaining ashes are given to the relatives of the deceased in an urn for them to keep or bury. Currently, this service is available in Malta only by transporting the body abroad, usually to Sicily. As far as we know, it is offered by Camilleri Funeral Directors, Ivan Mifsud Funeral Services, Karmenu Mifsud Funeral Services, and Active Assist, but there may be other providers.
In the case of water cremation a pressurised water-based process is used, requiring far less energy, and producing far less pollutants, than flame-based cremation. The end-product is a sterile liquid (containing amino acids, peptides, sugars and salts, but no DNA) which can safely be disposed of in the environment, and crumbled bones (referred to as ashes) which can be treated in the same way as cremated ashes. Water cremation is currently legal in Ireland, the UK, 24 US states, 3 Canadian provinces, Australia and Mexico (and was used in South Africa for Desmond Tutu). There is some opposition, citing such as “insufficient respect for the sanctity of the human body”, but we disagree; all forms of disposal of remains can involve the return of natural substances to the environment.
Currently one company in Malta, Repose Crematorium*, is proposing to provide water cremation services which would include an appropriate venue for religious and non-religious ceremonies; storage, if wanted, of the “ashes”; and disposal of the liquid as waste (or possibly in the memorial garden).