Is cause of death a matter of public record?

This gentleman used to regularly play the bagpipes outside during lunch near my office. I saw him nearly every day, and even talked to him a few times, but did not know him well.

In any case, he apparently died about a month ago. I was shocked when I learned of it. He was only in his late 30’s. Now I have this sense of morbid curiosity as to the cause of his death.

So here’s my question: Is this a matter of public record? Is it possible for a member of the public to learn of the official cause of death of a person?

Death certificates are a matter of public record. You can obtain copies of them.

However they still are not always accurate. I had a friend who was head nurse in a hospital, and he tells me that even today doctors will put down pneumonia as the cause, when it was AIDS, or put down like it was a bump on the head that killed the man and not the fact he was an alcoholic.

This tends to happen more at religious hospital than secular.

People don’t realize even divorces are a matter of public record. When I worked for a CPA I would have to go downtown and locate old housing records. And while waiting (this was back in the early 80s and it was still largely manual) I would look thru divorce cases for fun and some would even have pictures in them.

Voting rolls are public records too…There is a lot of info out there.

Usually it is pneumonia…AIDS doesn’t usually kill you, it lowers your defenses and makes it easier to die from other (normally minor) illnesses.

Your local County recorder will glad sell you a death certificate for a few bucks.

As others have stated, the cause of death may not exactly be clear as underlying conditions won’t be listed. For the elderly, it is often difficult to pinpoint just what was the cause of death. Someone who had diabetes or high blood pressure could die of many different things also.

This reminds me of something:
“He died of natural causes. His heart stopped when I shoved a knife into it.”
The point being that you can’t always get the full picture of someone’s cause of death if you just look at what caused the cessation of life. Because, after all, everyone who has ever died (and who ever will die in an organic body) died of cellular death (there is a Latin term for this, but I can’t think of it right now). Knowing that tells you nothing, however. You have to know why the person’s cells died. ‘Pneumonia’ is a more accurate cause, but it could also ignore a root cause. Like AIDS. Likewise, cardiac arrest is often the end result of cocaine abuse. Yes, cardiac arrest killed the person, but the cardiac arrest was caused by a $1000-a-day cocaine habit.

On the other hand, it is possible to get too far into root causes. For example, cocaine abuse could be caused by emotional disturbances, which could be caused by a bad home life. So, do we say that a bad home life killed the guy on the slab? No, we say cardiac arrest is the immediate cause of death, the cardiac arrest being caused by cocaine abuse.

Okay, the root point of this is that while the immediate cause of death might be on file, it could tell you next to nothing about what actually caused his death.