A 1548 engraving by Hans Sebald Beham, titled “Hercules on His Funeral Pyre,” is from a series of renderings on the labors of Hercules. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

A proposal to allow open-air cremations in Maine got rave reviews at a recent legislative hearing.

Reynold Buono of Lewiston told lawmakers he wants his remains “released to the sky in this manner.”

“I spent many years in Southeast Asia and witnessed Buddhist cremations in Northern Thailand and Bali,” Buono said. “The beauty and finality of the rituals were clearly a comfort to those communities.”

Buono said Western-style indoor cremations pale by comparison with their “superfluous coffin, the fruity music, the confined space.”

The state Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee is considering a bill that would allow a nonprofit that possesses at least 20 acres to carry out open-air cremations, one at a time, and to scatter the ashes on the property.

Good Ground, Great Beyond, a nonprofit formed in 2018, hopes to have outdoor funeral pyres on a 63-acre forested parcel it has owned in Dresden for the past couple of years.

More than two dozen Mainers testified in favor of the measure, with little opposition voiced.

Antony Antolini, president of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Maine, urged passage.

“The choice may not be for everyone, but it should be available,” he said.

A Dresden resident, Emily Estes, said her town “offers an ideal location for an open-air pyre.”

“We honor the sanctity of life in our town and greatly appreciate the quality of life we have,” Estes said. “It is in our town’s highest good to offer others a chance to pay tribute to their loved ones in a thoughtful, respectful and intimate manner.”

Sarah Gillespie, a Lewiston chaplain, told lawmakers that “one of the things I treasure about our state is the freedom it provides Mainers to live on their own terms. No one can tell a Mainer what to do.”

“We do not ever impose on one another the right way to make a decision, especially one as meaningful as those made at end of life, in line with the beliefs that matter most,” she said.

“As a person of faith and a chaplain to those who are grappling with their dying process, I attempt to walk alongside those making difficult decisions, including what will happen to their bodies after they are gone,” Gillespie said.

“Having open-air cremation as an option in our state, where we feel very connected to our natural resources, allows Mainers to choose a meaningful, sacred process for themselves,” she said. “It may not be what I choose, but that is the beauty of Maine.”

Katelyn Estes, a licensed funeral director in South Portland, called the proposal “an excellent option to offer Mainers in addition to traditional burial and cremation.”

“I believe people who choose this method of disposition will like how deeply personal and peaceful this method is,” she said. “Open-air cremations would allow families to gather and be there for their loved one, being part of a beautiful and sacred ceremony.”

The chief advocate for the plan, Angela Lutzenberger, who formed Good Ground, Great Beyond, said that “open-air cremation demands full engagement. It offers deep connection and contemplation, a deep relating to the transformation of those we have loved.”

“I have known people who chose this option, and many others who wish they could choose it. Every person who has been present for the open-air cremations of loved ones speak of the experience with awe, reverence, and as being imbued with a powerful significance,” she said.

Opposition to the measure came from Jennifer Hawk, regulatory board manager for the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation’s Office of Professional and Occupational Regulation.

She took no stance on the issue involved, but expressed concern that the Board of Funeral Service doesn’t have the expertise or jurisdiction to create new rules and inspections for open-air cremations.

Charles Lakin, a board member for the nonprofit, told lawmakers that a lot of new end-of-life options are appearing around the country, including “mushroom suits” and human composting.

The open-air cremation option, legal only in Colorado in the United States, is one he believes some families will choose.

“They want to make the process personal,” he said “Participation in the disposition eases the acceptance of the death and softens the bereavement.”

“Imagine the difference between a funeral director picking up the body and returning several days later to deliver the ashes, and the family and friends being in community, gathering to carry the body to the pyre, lighting the fire, then participating in prayer, singing, ritual, crying, telling stories, laughing, being free to express themselves in any manner they choose,” he said.

The committee hasn’t yet scheduled a work session on the bill.

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