What is a Legal Pronouncement of Death and How Do You Obtain One?

Saying goodbye is never easy. Letting go of someone you love and acknowledging their passing are by far some of the most heart-rending experiences you can encounter. As you are grieving your loved one, it can be challenging to find the mental and emotional strength to determine the next steps to take after a loved one dies.

After a loved one’s passing, it is necessary to obtain a legal pronouncement of their death. In today’s post, we will be taking a closer look at what a pronouncement of death entails and its value, and offer guidance on how you can obtain one. 

What Is a Pronouncement of Death?

Since the beginning of time, family members of the deceased would usually count on either a religious leader, doctor, law official, or nurse to legally and officially pronounce whether he or she has died or not. This is one of the few shared experiences that universally applies to most cultures and religions after someone’s life comes to an end. Serving as an official representation to announce that someone has passed, a pronouncement of death holds significant meaning to the bereaved family. 

Maybe, you have heard one or two stories about people waking up in the morgue as their bodies are being prepared, or even waking up inside their coffin while the funeral ceremony was taking place. As humorous or scary as it might sound, pronouncing the death of someone is a serious manner and should never be overlooked to avoid such occurrences. It’s also not uncommon for many to fall into a coma or lose consciousness while ill, without having passed away yet. 

In fact, if you attend CPR training, you’re usually told to never cease compressions until someone authorized to declare the death arrives. This is to avoid inaccurate announcements of death or even cause premature death itself. Ultimately, a pronouncement of death is the permanent declaration that someone has died with the affirmation that there is no longer anything medically possible that can be performed to resuscitate bodily functions. 

Who Is Allowed to Pronounce a Death?

Establishing who is legally qualified to announce a pronouncement of death is not as simple as one might think. This can usually vary and depend on the state, the place, and the type of scenario in which the death occurred. For example, some states have only recently allowed RNs and APRNs to pronounce a patient’s death. Moreover, while a physician is usually needed to declare someone’s death, in some instances, paramedics can make a determination of death, or even a hospice nurse may be able to, if the deceased had been under the care of the hospice.

Regardless of profession or location, a pronouncement of death is of high significance and must be approached with grace and respect for the family and abide by certain ethical mandates and codes. Once a pronouncement of death has been established, a medical certificate of death is usually required. It is the doctor’s responsibility to certify the cause of death, as well as the date and time of the deceased’ passing.

Is a Pronouncement of Death The Same as a Death Certificate?

The short answer is no. A pronouncement of death usually comes first, and then and only then can a death certificate can be filed. The death certificate serves as the official legal proof and documentation that the deceased person is no longer alive. This is a document required by the state and is also required by insurance companies before covering any funeral costs and arrangements. It also helps officials and public authorities keep track of mortality rates, rising epidemics, age ratios, demographics, and a significant number of other factors that have value towards public interest. Moreover, with a certificate of death, no one can steal the deceased’s identity or information for illegal purposes. 

Where or How Do You Obtain a Pronouncement of Death?

As the first step of the burial process of someone who has passed, a pronouncement of death is usually handled by the hospital staff if the deceased died while under hospital care. In the case that the deceased died at home or outside a medical setting, you might need to take hands-on care of the matter. Your options include contacting 911 to have the paramedics come and declare the death, or you can also call your loved one’s physician to have him or her guide and advise them on the best way to proceed. You can also contact a local medical examiner or health department’s office so they can send someone who can help you, or even get in contact with a funeral home to have them provide you with the necessary help and resources. 

Keep in mind that similar to how the grieving process is unique to anyone who experiences it,  there is no one way or right way to get a pronouncement of death. Pronouncing a loved one’s death can be a nerve-racking and overwhelming experience, but it is an important step in accepting what has passed, being able to cope with the grieving process and eventually moving on to adapt to a new life without your loved one. 

If you or someone you love are going through the emotionally challenging experience of reconciling a loved one’s recent passing, you can find a plethora of resources through the FuneralHomes.com website. 

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