The Manner and Cause of Death

Given Brittany Murphy’s recent death from reported “natural causes,” we thought it might be a good idea to review what is meant by this term as we described in a previous story.

“Natural causes” is a frequently given cause of death – but what specifically does it mean? Specifying a cause of death is required by law in all states. Death certification provides public health statistics and prevents cover-ups of murder. A death certificate requires two things:

* The cause of death: a disease or injury directly related to the death (such as heart attack, AIDS, kidney failure) or the circumstances of death (gun shot wound, hanging)
* The manner of death: natural, accidental, suicide, homicide, unknown, pending

Natural causes is a loosely-defined term used by coroners describing death when the cause of death was a naturally occurring disease process, or is not apparent given medical history or circumstances. As long as a physician familiar with the patient agrees to sign the death certificate, no autopsy in required.

Picture credit: R.I.P. Painting (2009)

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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