Cause of death

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For a comprehensive list of potential causes, see List of causes of death by rate. For other uses, see cause of death (disambiguation).

In law, medicine, and statistics, cause of death is a term which refers to an official determination of conditions resulting in a human's death. In modern times, such determinations usually become an essential data point of a federal death certificate.


In contemporary times and in most parts of the world, a cause of death is determined by a medical examiner.


Causes of death are sometimes disputed by relatives or members of the public, particularly when some degree of uncertainty or ambiguity exists in relation to the cause of death. On occasion, such disputes may result from, or sometimes instigate, a conspiracy theory.

Legal implications[edit]

United States[edit]

Some insurance contracts, such as life insurance policies, have special rules for certain causes of death. Intentional injuries, for example, may invalidate claims under terms of such a contract.


A study published in Preventing Chronic Disease found that only one-third of New York City resident physicians reported believing that the present system of documentation was accurate. Half reported the inability to record "what they felt to be the correct cause of death", citing reasons such as technical limitation and instruction to "put something else". Nearly four-fifths reported being unaware that determinations of "probable", "presumed", or "undetermined" could be made, fewer than three percent reported ever updating a death certificate when conflicting lab results or other new information became available, and cardiovascular disease was indicated as "the most frequent diagnosis inaccurately reported".[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wexelman, Barbara A.; Eden, Edward; Rose, Keith M. (2013). "Survey of New York City Resident Physicians on Cause-of-Death Reporting, 2010". Preventing Chronic Disease 10. doi:10.5888/pcd10.120288. ISSN 1545-1151. 

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