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October 27, 1993

Relax: It's Onlie Sodeyne Death

JAMA. 1993;270(16):1935. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03510160053026

To the Editor.  —While I acknowledge that it may be too late to divert this flood, "sudden death" as part of the history of a live patient is, at the least, contradictory English. Expanding it to "sudden unexpected death," as in a recent article in JAMA,1 is even worse.An enormous literature, medical and lay, has been recently directed at the problem of poor physician-patient communication, both real and perceived. This usage of "death" can only aggravate the problem. As an example, "Yes, Mrs Jones, your husband presented with sudden death, but we think he's going to be OK." The psychological effect of this terminology on patients and families cannot be ignored. Over time, the general public has come to approve, such terms as "cardiac arrest" and "heart stoppage," even with a bit of pride among some survivors, and it may eventually do the same with "sudden death." But