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Old 11-26-2009, 08:29 PM
jtgain jtgain is offline
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How long after death is embalming no longer an option?

Let's say a man dies alone at home at 4pm on Monday. His body is found at 6pm on Tuesday. Is is reasonable to assume that enough time has passed for medical personnel to state that his body has decomposed to the point that embalming and display for a funeral is no longer an option?

Please note, that while this is a hypothetical, it was based on a real event that happened many years (10) ago, so any answers will not be used in any type of legal proceeding. Just want to satisfy my curiosity. Thanks.
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Old 11-27-2009, 03:56 AM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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Only 26 hours? I'd think that under most circumstances that such a body could be embalmed.

A great deal depends on conditions. Tropical heat and humidity, for example, greatly speed decay in which case things might have progressed to the point where embalming (which is intended to slow/prevent decay) is pointless, but in a typical 70 degree room not nearly so much. If the environment is cool enough (say, death in an unheated home in winter) then the body might be "presentable" for days.

Remember, we're basically bags of meat. If you left a pork chop out on the kitchen counter for a day you probably wouldn't want to eat it, but it wouldn't look that bad. The smell might be getting pronounced but it wouldn't be dissolving or anything.

Now, death in a hot tub - that could get messy after 26 hours if there is something keeping the heat turned up. But, again, it's the addition of heat that speed deterioration.
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Old 11-27-2009, 12:50 PM
jtgain jtgain is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Broomstick View Post
Only 26 hours? I'd think that under most circumstances that such a body could be embalmed.

A great deal depends on conditions. Tropical heat and humidity, for example, greatly speed decay in which case things might have progressed to the point where embalming (which is intended to slow/prevent decay) is pointless, but in a typical 70 degree room not nearly so much. If the environment is cool enough (say, death in an unheated home in winter) then the body might be "presentable" for days.

Remember, we're basically bags of meat. If you left a pork chop out on the kitchen counter for a day you probably wouldn't want to eat it, but it wouldn't look that bad. The smell might be getting pronounced but it wouldn't be dissolving or anything.

Now, death in a hot tub - that could get messy after 26 hours if there is something keeping the heat turned up. But, again, it's the addition of heat that speed deterioration.
Thanks. And to follow up. Let's say that the house was an extra hot 78 degrees from the heater being on in winter time. And let's further say that his body was found in a small bathroom over a heat register.

And you mentioned that the smell may be bad. Is that something that morticians can correct so that it doesn't smell for a display/funeral?

ETA: An electric heat pump, so the air is warm, but not scalding hot like from a old gas furnace.

Last edited by jtgain; 11-27-2009 at 12:51 PM..
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Old 11-27-2009, 01:12 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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Originally Posted by jtgain View Post
Thanks. And to follow up. Let's say that the house was an extra hot 78 degrees from the heater being on in winter time. And let's further say that his body was found in a small bathroom over a heat register.
Well, in that case you could have some issues with flesh being burned, too, depending on how hot the heater/register is. Even something that is tolerable for a living hand to touch might cause, ahem, undesirable changes in the deceased over the course of a day. Think of how Egyptian mummies look when unwrapped - they're well preserved and embalmed, but not exactly how you want Uncle Bob to look at an open casket funeral, ya know?

Quote:
And you mentioned that the smell may be bad. Is that something that morticians can correct so that it doesn't smell for a display/funeral?
Up to a point. But only up to a point. Even with professional and timely embalming the average corpse will eventually grow mold on the exterior, for example. Embalming is only good for a couple of days, if a body needs to be held longer it's usually put in a refrigerator or freezer of some sort.

Someone who, for example, has been fished out of river or decaying in summer time for and extended period is just not going to presentable no matter what you do. Morgues often have something called a "decomp" room (short for "decomposition") for the really bad cases that even seasoned professionals can find repulsively gross.

Given what you describe, 26 hours still seems a short time, but with the elevated temperature, and depending on cause of death and a few other factors yes, it's possible the body was in a state where embalming wasn't going to do much good.

Last edited by Broomstick; 11-27-2009 at 01:12 PM..
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Old 11-27-2009, 01:24 PM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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There was a story about some British hobnob who went missing and was eventually declared dead. Apparently his family found him locked in a small office in a rarely used area of the giant mansion many years later.

By then it was probably too late for embalming or an open-casket funeral.

One of the issues I wonder about is clotting. if your body is kept at room temp for more than a day, will your blood be to thick or lumpy to drain properly? You know how on those CSI-type shows they talk about the blood pooling at the lower areas of the body? I thought one mentioned the distinctive colour of the pooling too.

I would imagine it would take more than a day for serious rot to set in. You leave a turkey out overnight to thaw (timely reference), the outside is not smelly rotten the next afternoon. The problem is that any bacteria on it will grow enough that you really want to cook it.

Last edited by md2000; 11-27-2009 at 01:25 PM..
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Old 11-27-2009, 03:46 PM
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
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Livor mortis - after 24 hours it would be well established and the blood clotted. But mortician's make up could cover that.
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Old 11-27-2009, 05:20 PM
alphaboi867 alphaboi867 is offline
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Six Feet Under had an episode where a woman died alone in her apartment and wasn't found for several days (until a neighbor complained of the smell). From what we saw of her body afterward she'd swelled up to twice her size. Rico had to insert a probe into her stomach just to vent the gas. She ended up with a closed casket despite his best efforts.

They also did an episode where a man had been floating in the bay (after going threw propeller blades) for a few days, and even though it was a closed casket service the widow absolutly insisted on seeing him despite their best efforts to convince her otherwise. We didn't see it, but heard her screaming at the top of her lungs. She later turned around and sued them for inflicting emotional distress on her (Nate forgot to make her sign a release before he showed her).
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