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Writing a Death Certificate

From Mediwikis

A Death Certificate is issued by a doctor to list a person's cause of death. They may only be issued where a cause of death is known, and in other circumstances deaths must be referred to the coroner. This guidance is specific to the UK, and may differ in other countries.


  • Enables the deceased's family to register the death, settle their estate, and arrange a funeral.
  • Statistical monitoring of national public health to guide future health interventions.

The Coroner

This is an independent judicial officer, with a medio-legal background. They investigate deaths where a death certificate cannot be issued, and may order a post-mortem to determine the cause of death.

Which deaths need to be reported to the coroner?

In general[1]:

  • Any violent or unnatural death, including suicide.
  • The cause of death is unknown.
  • The person died during detention, for example in prison or custody.

Further examples from the medical setting[2]:

  • A doctor has not seen the patient in the last 14 days.
  • A doctor was not present during the most recent illness.
  • The cause of death is unknown.
  • The death occurred within 24 hours of admission into hospital.
  • Following an operation, procedure, or anaesthetic.
  • Any workplace-related death, including occupational illness such as mesothelioma or asbestosis.
  • Any suspected poisoning
  • Death due to violence or neglect

Completing a Death Certificate

The certificate should be completed by the doctor who attended the patient during the last illness.

In part one of the certificate, you should list the direct causal sequence of events or conditions leading to death, starting with the immediate cause of death.

  1. Cause of death
    • (a) Disease or condition leading directly to death
    • (b) Disease or condition leading to 1a
    • (c) Disease or condition leading to 1b
  2. Other contributing conditions that are not directly related to the death.
Many examples are available from this UK government document, and will not be repeated here.
  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/283937/coroner-investigations-a-short-guide.pdf
  2. http://www.gro.gov.uk/images/medcert_july_2010.pdf