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July 24, 1996

Death Certificate Completion by Physicians

Author Affiliations

Oxford, Conn

JAMA. 1996;276(4):279. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540040023012

To the Editor.  —Surely Drs Messite and Stellman1 are jesting when they suggest a new medical school course in how to fill out death certificate forms. Fifty years ago when I began medical school, the department of medicine taught me the etiology, sequences, and sequelae of diseases, and the department of pathology demonstrated this graphically at the autopsy table. Even though autopsy rates are not as high today as 50 years ago, I assume the modern-day medical student does spend some time at the side of the autopsy table and does read autopsy reports, which by tradition and protocol are finalized with "cause of death" written in the same manner as is required on most death certificates. I also assume that clinical pathological conferences and morbidity and mortality conferences are attended at many teaching hospitals. In these educational conferences, the diagnosis is arrived at by the process of medical