Practical Information for End of Life Care

by Frances Moriarty with input from Susanne Fincher

Below is a helpful link that answers a lot of questions around the legal aspects of death.  There are also sections of this site that talk about traditions and etiquette surrounding funeral services. The section linked here provides specifics for immediately after death including pronouncement of death and transportation, and registration of the death and death certificates. http://diesmart.com/sayinggoodbye/immediately-after-death/

Information on pronouncement of death and who can sign the death certificate in Georgia is found here: https://dph.georgia.gov/sites/dph.georgia.gov/files/Pronouncement%20of%20Death.pdf

US Standard: http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/29467-death-cert.html

According to the National Association of Medical Examiners about 20 percent of all death certificates are signed by a coroner or a medical examiner. Since autopsy rates have plummeted in hospitals, death investigators now perform the majority of the nation’s autopsies, which remain a vital barometer for revealing causes that might otherwise have been missed. In 2007, the latest data available from the CDC, 201,000 autopsies were performed, accounting for just 8 percent of all deaths.

Others who can sign a death certificate include a primary physician, an attending physician, a non-attending physician, a medical examiner, a nurse practitioner, a forensic pathologist or a coroner, but it varies according to state law. In Texas, for example, a justice of the peace can sign. Typically, deaths have to be recorded with local health departments within 72 hours of the death, and to the state within five to seven days. 

In The Georgia Code (https://law.justia.com/codes/georgia/2010/title-31/chapter-10/31-10-15/) the medical certification as to the cause and circumstances of death shall be completed, signed, and returned to the funeral director or person acting as such within 72 hours after death by the physician in charge of the patient’s care for the illness or condition which resulted in death, except when inquiry is required by Article 2 of Chapter 16 of Title 45, the “Georgia Death Investigation Act.” In the absence of said physician or with that physician’s approval the certificate may be completed and signed by an associate physician, the chief medical officer of the institution in which death occurred, or the physician who performed an autopsy upon the decedent, provided that such individual has access to the medical history of the case, views the deceased at or after death, and death is due to natural causes. If, 30 days after a death, the physician in charge of the patient’s care for the illness or condition which resulted in death has failed to complete, sign, and return the medical certification as to the cause and circumstances of death to the funeral director or person acting as such, the funeral director or person acting as such shall be authorized to report such physician to the Georgia Composite Medical Board for discipline pursuant to Code Section 43-34-8.

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