"There is a positively fascinating article on death certificates in the April 7th issue of the New Yorker," wrote Lisa Carlson* in a recent note to FCA's email-based discussion list.
"The author, Kathryn Schulz, begins with the history, the early 'Bills of Mortality.' In England in the 17th and 18th century, one might die of Cramp and of Itch, of Lethargy, the King's Evil, or succumb to Overjoy. In modern times with little or no training and resident doctors filling out the paperwork for patients they may never have seen pre-mortem, one doctor confessed that death certificates were often a work of 'fiction.' When my uncle Henry died, I demanded that the death certificate be corrected from "schizophrenia" to "pulmonary malfunction" or something like that as the primary cause of death. Crazy by itself doesn't kill people, only the choices they might make. My uncle was 86 when he died in failing health."
Lisa continues, "With people living longer, there very well may be multiple contributing factors. Which one or ones does a doctor choose? Why is this important? Because research money is turned loose based on death certificate data."
*Lisa Carlson is Executive Director of the Funeral Ethics Organization and co-author of the book Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death.
I plan to look for this New Yorker article at my local public library. (New Yorker subscribers may access it directly at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/