Forensic pathology
Death certificate

Author: Lindsey Harle, M.D. (see Authors page)

Revised: 12 January 2017, last major update February 2012

Copyright: (c) 2012-2017,, Inc.

PubMed search: death certificate [title]

Cite this page: Death certificate. website. Accessed December 15th, 2018.
  • To legally document that death occurred
  • To provide mortality statistics for public health purposes, which influences allocation of funding for research and public health initiatives
Certifier of death
  • Physician, medical examiner, or coroner who completes the "cause of death" section on the death certificate, including information regarding the circumstances of death
  • Cause of death and circumstances represent the certifier's opinion
  • Not legally binding, and can be changed if new information regarding the death is introduced
How to complete the death certificate
  • The cause of death should always be listed
  • If an acute mechanism of death is known, this can be stated as the primary cause of death; the underlying cause of death should always be listed below

  • Incorrect cause of death: Respiratory arrest
  • Correct cause of death: Complications of pneumonia or respiratory arrest due to pneumonia

  • Incorrect cause of death: Cardiac arrest
  • Correct cause of death: Acute myocardial infarction or cardiac arrest due to acute myocardial infarction