Ostensibly, airtight caskets preserve a body longer than less expensive, unsealed caskets. However, consumer groups, such as the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Central Ohio, say the only significant effects of sealed caskets are the anerobic bacteria they create and the boost they give to the funeral industry's bottom line.
According to the alliance, airtight caskets are considerably more expensive than unsealed caskets; the £5 gasket that keeps air out of the casket adds at least £520 to a casket's retail price, as of 2011. Though some sealed caskets retail for as low as £975, high-end airtight caskets can cost £13,000 or more. According to a 1997 price list posted at the website of consumer activist and Tempe, Arizona, Roman Catholic priest, Father Henry Wasielewski, a sealed casket, called the "Cameo Rose," has a wholesale price of £282, but is sold for £1,979 or more. Similarly, a sealed casket called "Classic Gold" that wholesales for £2,596, commonly retails for £6,492 to £7,790.
According to online casket retailer, Funeral Caskets.com, a sealed casket may actually hasten decomposition, causing putrefaction and liquefaction of the body. In fact, pressure from the gasses created by the body's decomposition in a sealed environment has caused remains to explode through the container, according to Wasielewski. A casket that allows air to dehydrate the body naturally provides much cleaner decomposition and denuding of the skeleton, says Funeral Caskets.com.
The Sales Pitch
According to Wasielewski, the funeral industry often takes advantage of the decedent's family members when grief has left them most vulnerable and gullible. Although it is illegal to tell customers that a sealed casket will preserve a body longer or better than an unsealed one, an investigation of funeral homes by the Attorney General of Connecticut Richard Blumenthal and the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group found that 19 per cent of funeral homes in the state implied that sealed caskets preserve bodies indefinitely.
An article at the website of Pacific Interment tells the story of Danell Pepson of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, who sued a mortuary and a casket manufacturer because of problems she had with a protective-sealer casket. After entombing her grandmother in a copper sealed casket, Pepson began to notice a foul-smelling tar-like stain in front of the casket on the mausoleum floor. Though she scrubbed the stain away, it would be there each time she returned. Finally, upon disentombment of the casket, Pepson discovered her grandmother's remains had liquefied within the casket. Both companies paid Pepson £26,000 to settle the case, but denied any wrongdoing.