Taylor, MI asked in Constitutional Law and Health Care Law for Michigan

Q: Section 2843 of Act 368 Public Acts of 1978 who should sign the death certificate?

I have without success tried to consult with an attorney that option has not been made available to me.

The deceased was pronounced dead in the hospital in Michigan. Am I correct that the death certificate should have been signed by the chief medical officer based on available records or pathologists in the hospital, not the medical examiner? Thanks for your time.

2 Lawyer Answers
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: In Michigan, under Section 2843 of Act 368 of the Public Acts of 1978, the responsibility for signing a death certificate typically falls to the attending physician who was responsible for the care of the patient prior to death. This is generally the case when the death occurs in a hospital setting and the cause of death is known and can be medically determined by that physician.

If the death is unexpected, involves suspicious circumstances, or the attending physician is unavailable, the task may then fall to a pathologist or the chief medical officer of the hospital. These professionals are equipped to make the necessary determinations regarding the cause of death based on medical records, examinations, and any post-mortem procedures they deem necessary.

However, in cases where the death is sudden, violent, or without a clear medical cause, the medical examiner or a designated deputy may be required to sign the death certificate. The medical examiner's involvement is crucial in such instances to ensure a thorough investigation into the cause of death, which may involve an autopsy or additional forensic analysis. It's important to consult with local authorities or hospital administration to understand the specific procedures followed in your situation.

Brent T. Geers agrees with this answer

Brent T. Geers
Brent T. Geers
  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Licensed in Michigan

A: To answer your question more succinctly: Ordinarily a death certificate would be signed by the doctor present at the time of death. The cause(s) of death would be those known to the doctor at the time or based on medical records. It is not uncommon for there to be multiple causes of death, and the death certificate cannot be read to indicate a specific cause.

For example: an elderly person gets into a really bad car accident. By age and other medical conditions, they may be on death's door anyway, but certainly being in a bad accident wouldn't help. If this person dies soon thereafter in the hospital, the cause(s) of death could include things like pneumonia, heart attack, complications from dementia...all of which you could reasonably conclude were at least exasperated by the car accident.

A medical examiner conducts autopsies, which ordinarily are done only for deaths arising from a possible criminal act. Sometimes, families elect to have an autopsy done on their own. But if the death occurred in a hospital, and there were no indications of criminal activity (e.g. police investigating), a medical examiner would not ordinarily have anything to do.

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