Lamar Hankins is a well-respected lawyer in Texas and a board member of the Funeral Consumer Alliance. Recently he was asked if a family has the right to cremate a body using a funeral pyre. His reply is below. [On an entirely different note, there is also a very irreverent and funny video addressing this issue and also Viking funerals on YouTube.]
REPLY: I’ve tried to answer this question many times, focusing on Texas funeral law. However, I believe that my answer will apply as well to most states.
Texas law does not contemplate such a disposition, but it does not explicitly prohibit it. The problem is more practical —what to do about the remaining large bones that will not be destroyed in the fire. Those remains will need to be buried or placed in an ossuary or mausoleum, or pulverized to be placed in a container similar to the disposition of normal cremated remains in order to satisfy officials who may object to the disposition.
A variation of this procedure is what is often termed “sky burial” — the placement of a body for disposition by vultures, insects, and bacteria. Once the bones are barren, some disposition will need to be made for them, at least for practical reasons, if not legal ones. If anyone finds human bones lying around, it could trigger a law enforcement investigation, which would be a hassle no one would want.
Texas does not have a statute which says human remains can be disposed of only by burial or cremation in a crematory licensed by the state, nor does it prohibit disposition by freeze-drying or dissolution by acid. If any of these methods start to catch on, new laws may be written to regulate such dispositions.