J Korean Med Assoc.  2018 Aug;61(8):451-459. 10.5124/jkma.2018.61.8.451.

Determination of cause and manner of death

  • 1Department of Forensic Medicine, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea. yoosh@snu.ac.kr
  • 2Institute of Forensic Science, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea.


Medical certificates of death and post-mortem examinations reflect the exclusive competence of medical doctors, according to Article 17 of the Medical Service Act. Although a medical certificate of death is a legal document that requires the certifier's best intellectual effort to complete, the attempts of certifiers do not seem to improve the accuracy of the content. The death certificate plays several important roles. First, it guarantees legal proof of death, which exempts individuals from various rights and duties. Second, official investigations can be performed on the basis of the death certificate to elucidate the nature of any crime that may have been committed. Third, death certificates are the backbone of national death statistics, and therefore play a role in the distribution of national resources for health policy. The determination of cause and manner of death is inherently a laborious task. The World Health Organization has suggested that the medical certificate of death should present the chain of events leading to death in a successive sequence. Medical doctors should have a precise understanding of how to assess the cause and manner of death and must use succinct, clear language to ensure the credibility of death certificates.


Cause of death; Death certificates; Causality

MeSH Terms

Cause of Death
Death Certificates
Health Policy
Mental Competency
World Health Organization
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