Certifying Death in the United States

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Abstract

Accurately identifying death and its causes is integral to the compilation of mortality data and ultimately to the operation of the criminal justice and public health systems. A clear understanding of who is in charge of such processes is paramount to establishing the quality, or lack thereof, of the information provided in death certificates. Our study provides a comprehensive overview of all state statutes identifying death investigators charged with classifying and certifying death in the United States. We found that state statutes designate a broad range of individuals as responsible for the classification and certification of death. Those vary by state and set of circumstances and can include medical examiners, coroners, pathologists, other physicians, registered nurses, and more. Our findings highlight the important need for a unified standard of qualifications in the medico-legal system, as well as, regulatory reform at the state level regarding who can complete and sign death certificates.

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