The Embalmer’s Dilemma

By Dr. Royal Lee

Summary: Who knows better the ultimate side effects of pharmaceutical drugs than an embalmer? In this thought-provoking article from 1962, Dr. Royal Lee presents and discusses remarks by professor Ray E. Slocum of the Dodge Chemical Company, who details the decrepit physical condition of bodies belonging to people who had taken drugs such as thyroid medications, diabetic aids, tranquilizers, and steroids while alive. Among the hazardous effects of longtime use of such prescriptions, Slocum says, are ulcers, cirrhosis, nerve damage, kidney failure, fatty liver, and intestinal walls “so thin…they cannot withstand the injection of embalming fluids.” Worse, pharmaceuticals often do nothing more than ameliorate the symptoms of a condition, meaning if the deathly side effects of a drug don’t fell a patient, the illness the drug is masking eventually will. From Let’s Live magazine, 1962.

[The following is a transcription of the original Archives document. To view or download the original document, click here.]

The Embalmer’s Dilemma[spacer height=”20px”]

Doctors are often called upon to perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death. When they do so, a “closed-door” remark they frequently make is “The wonder is not what caused the death, but what kept the person alive as long as he lived!” This comment is elicited by the degenerative conditions that are concealed by a superficial appearance of physical soundness. Now the embalmers add their doleful bit to the story.

A recent article by Professor Ray E. Slocum of the Dodge Chemical Company tells of the conditions found in the bodies of dead people, which are giving more and more trouble to the embalmers as they peform the last mortal rites. Professor Slocum says:

Steroid Drugs

“So-called steroid drugs (cortisone and ACTH) used in treating arthritis, skin disorders, rheumatic fever, asthma, allergies, and cancer may produce in the patient ulcers of the digestive tract, with possible perforations and bleeding. Ulcerative colitis may be a complication.

“The drugs also make the membranes of the cells less permeable, that is, more resistant to the fluids, thus blocking passage of fluids into the cells and tissues.

Estrogenic Hormones

“The estrogenic hormones (progesterone, et al.) used in pregnancy, menstrual disorders, and cancer therapy upset the salt balance in the body, causing accumulations of excess water (swelling and dropsy).

Diabetic Drugs

“Drugs that are given by mouth for diabetes (tolbutamide and chlorpropamide) cause enlargement and cirrhosis of the liver.


“Tranquilizers cause disorganization and destruction of red blood cells and enlargement of the spleen and liver, with fatty deposits [occurring] in the liver and other organs. They also cause kidney failure and accumulation of waste products of the kidney and a degeneration of the sheaths in which the nerves are contained and the muscles connected with the nerves.

“Other tranquilizers, used for treatment of mental patients and also for controlling high blood pressure, cause mainly liver enlargement and mild to severe jaundice. Another tranquilizer, used for asthma, high blood pressure, and mental disorders, causes liver damage and jaundice, general wasting of tissue, and a group of changes in the body that resemble those of Parkinson’s disease.

Other Medication

“Thyroid medication causes hardening of the arteries, with very brittle and degenerative blood vessels resulting. The mustard drugs used to treat leukemia and cancer produce intensive thinning of the intestinal walls, so that they are likely to rupture. In heart disease the blood is found heavy and clotted from drugs. Persons who have died from cancer may have intestines so thin (from medication) that they cannot withstand the injection of embalming fluids.

“The embalmer cannot gloss things over. He must find some way to work around the horrible damage that has been produced by these drugs.”

It has been said that the most wondrous accomplishment of our modern civilization is the creation of a person able to live in it! As stated before, the amazing thing is not why people die, but what keeps them living.

Nature provides a broad latitude for mistakes against her perfect structures; it allows the heaping of abuse after abuse against the natural law—but eventually she cracks up under the strain. We may never know of the damage she has absorbed until the surface mirror of her perfection is broken…”Only your undertaker knows for sure.” To parody an axiom, “We never miss health until the reserves run dry.” Then, as when the petals have fallen from a rose, it’s not “in the book” to be able to reconstruct its original beauty. Paste-ups are not the answer.

Preventive Medicine

Mark Twain once said, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it!” That statement seems to apply also to “preventive medicine” as it exists today. We hear much nowadays about “longer life spans,” but what a sad experience it is to visit the convalescent homes that fringe our hospital areas and see this “prolongation of life” at work: shattered bodies and minds kept alive with oxygen, plasma, and stimulants. I suggest that you pay a visit to one of these doleful institutions; it may shock you into action.

A Lesson

There is an old saying that “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Don’t be like our equestrian friends. You cannot reasonably read these facts we have presented without being impressed. You are now standing at the water’s brink. Drink!

A good start is to read one of the few medically-approved books on nutrition (originally published in England and to be available in America in the near future), entitled Vitamins in Medicine, by Bicknell and Prescott. This book not only tells of the ravages caused by ignoring nature’s ways but also shows us the way to prevent these bodily damages.

By Royal Lee, DDS, President, Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Reprinted from Let’s Live magazine, Los Angeles 29, California, 1962. Godfrey Thomas Publishing Co. 

Printed in U.S.A.

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