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Cause of Death and the Death Certificate
© 2006 College of American Pathologists
Part I
Summary of Basic Principles
Part I contains:
Background information on the history of the death certificate
Responsibilities of various parties in regard to the death certificate
Basic principles for completing cause-of-death statements
Part I is provided as a brief, yet comprehensive, general summary of death certification
issues, and may be useful for quick review and basic courses or lectures about death
What is the Death Certificate?
Each state has vital statistics regulations that require that a death certificate be completed
and officially filed when the death of a human being occurs.
The death certificate serves multiple purposes, including:
Legal documentation that the named person is dead
Information about the deceased, such as age, race, sex, date of birth, birth place, and
other basic descriptive information
Information that may be used to evaluate the cause, manner, and circumstances of
Information that may be used to settle the deceased’s estate
Information about disposition of the remains, such as where burial occurred, and the
funeral director or other agent responsible for making that disposition
Information that may be used by the government, public health agencies, other state
or federal agencies, or researchers to plan or fund programs designed to analyze,
reduce, or prevent mortality
In some states, the death certificate is first filed at the county level, then at the state level.
In other states, the death certificate is filed directly with the state. No matter which occurs
in your state, the death certificate information is eventually forwarded to the National
Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), which keeps data for the death of every person in
the United States (and associated territories and possessions). These NCHS data are used
by researchers and government to plan and fund programs and research that have national
impact on the nation’s health and safety. For these reasons, it is very important that death
certificate information be accurate, not to mention that survivors of the deceased should
also have an accurate understanding of the cause and circumstances of death.
Cause of Death and the Death Certificate Form
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