Died of old age?

Is it true that it’s illegal for a doctor to list “old age” as the cause of death on the certificate?
I want mine to say that!
I’m mostly loving getting old.

From what I understand, the cause of death will be listed as cardiac arrest if it’s a natural death. Your heart will stop beating causing you to die.

My mother was 95 when she died. She was in a nursing home, fell asleep in the middle of lunch, and never woke up. A peaceful and painless way to go.

Her death certificate lists “Chronic Congestive Heart Failure” as the cause of death.

She had not had any particular heart problems (other than what every 95-year-old has, I suppose) before that incident.

A previous thread on this.

And, from that earlier discussion, I quote a particularly insightful and helpful post: :wink:

I’ve filled out more than a few death certificates in my time, and I’m not aware of any laws saying what I can or can’t put down as a cause of death.

I try to make the primary cause of death reflective of the clinical situation at the time. Certainly one could always just put down “cardiac arrest” but that’s not really helpful.

So I may put down something like “overwhelming sepsis in the setting of metastatic pancreatic cancer” or “acute cardiac arrest in the setting of severe atherosclerotic coronary artery disease”.

Contributory diagnoses may be included too, such as “diabetes mellitus” or “End stage liver disease”.

I’ve never put down “old age” but I have seen death certificates that listed “general debility” as the cause of death.

That’s my experience, anyway.

On edit: What KarlGauss said. :wink:

Could you put “ennui”?

Me? I’m a long way from ennui. :slight_smile:

How much for an ennui ticket?

I used to be ennui, now I’m on caffeine.

(I expect to wee again a little while from now.)

Only if the deceased is named Neville.

Some time ago, this was the subject of a CarTalk puzzler. I can’t believe I found it.


My father’s death was listed as “complications of heart disease”. There was an autopsy, so I called the medical examiner to get more information. I asked if he had a heart attack, and the ME said no, there was no sign of complete blockage of any cardiac arteries, though he did have narrowed arteries. I ask what other complications of heart disease would cause death, and he had no answer, other than he died, and he had heart disease, so that’s what he died of. Very ambiguous and unsatisfying.

I understood that it is illegal to put “cardiac arrest” as a cause of death, since it is involved in 100% of deaths.

Then it should be illegal to NOT put “cardiac arrest” as a cause of death. :cool:

I understand it’s illegal to put “I kilt him” as a cause of death, except maybe in some circumstances in Texas.

Dr. David Agus, the author of The End of Illness, was on a show on the local public tv station here. He said that pre-50s, ‘old age’ was acceptable. Since then, the m.e. has to list something. Cardiac arrest is a symptom not a cause, but I guess better than ‘old age’ to the Powers That Be.

[thread=649315]Another[/thread] recent thread on similar topic.

As a pathologist and medical examiner, I fill out and review many death certificates daily. As far as I know there are, at least in my jurisdiction, no laws stipulating what can and can’t be put on DCs (with a notable exception, as explained in the other thread). While I’ve never put “old age” or one of its equivalents on a DC, I’ve been tempted to do so many times, and I’ve definitely seen it on DCs that I have reviewed plenty of times. I’d say, I see it several times a day out of several hundred DCs (I’m bad at estimating these type of amounts; it’d be interesting to actually run the numbers some day; if/when I do I’ll post the result). As long as the person is in fact “old,” I, and the other pathologists I work with, let that pass as a COD. Maybe we’re derelict in our duty, but if “old age” seemed to fit best by the person who filled out the DC (and, hopfully but not necessarily actually knew the decedent), I’m not going to nit pick second guess him/her.

FWIW, there are 3 different aspects to this: 1. The biology (or what my philosophical bias would have me term “reality”); 2. What gets put on the DC by the person filling it out; and 3. What gets coded into vital statistics by the nosologists. One would hope these are all more or less concordant with each other, but there’s no law that stipulates that either. There may very well be a kibosh put on “old age” by the people of 3. (Who really knows what they do?) As said, there is certainly no proviso against it by the people of 2, at least not among those whose DCs I review. And as for 1. well, …

As an ME, would you consider “complications of heart disease” in the absence of any evidence of coronary blockage an acceptable cause of death?

eightysix, Qadgop the Mercotan, KarlGauss, or anyone else who might have occasion to fill in the relevant field: Can a 55 year old die of “old age” in your view? How about a 45 year old? What’s the cutoff, below which you wouldn’t even consider “old age” as a possibility?

Now that’s just silly.