Confirmation of Death and Signed Doctor’s Death Certificate
Death at Home
Phone a doctor
If someone dies at home, you will need to contact their doctor to have the death confirmed and a Cause of Death Certificate signed. A Cause of Death Certificate is the official registration of death. It is signed by the doctor who pronounces the death, and is then lodged with the relevant State or Territory Government office. You cannot make funeral arrangements without a signed Cause of Death Certificate.
Phone the police
If the death is a reportable death, you must call the police or the coroner.
A ‘reportable death’ includes:
- A death by unexpected, unnatural, unusual, violent or unknown cause; or
- A death that occurs during or as a result, or within 24 hours, of surgery, an invasive medical procedure or the administration of an anaesthetic for those purposes; or
- A death that occurs at a place other than a hospital but within 24 hours of the person having been discharged from a hospital after being a patient or the person having sought emergency treatment at a hospital.
There is a penalty of up to $10,000 or 2 years imprisonment if you do not report a reportable death.
You must comply with any directions that the police give to you and provide them with any information relating to the death.
In certain circumstances, a coronial investigation may be required. In particular, a coronial investigation will usually be required if:
- The death is caused by a violent, unusual or unknown cause; or
- The death is caused by a fire or similar accident.
The police will let you know if this is the case, and the deceased will be transferred to the Coroner.
If you are in any doubt as to whether the death is a reportable death, or may result in a coronial investigation, then call the police and let them know what has happened.
Phone a funeral home
If the police give clearance for the deceased to be transferred to a funeral home, you will need to contact your preferred funeral home to arrange the transfer of the deceased. This can be delayed for a little while if you would like some private time.
Death in Hospital
If the deceased has died in a hospital, the hospital staff will take care of the confirmation of death and will organise the Death Certificate.
Phone a funeral home
The deceased’s body will remain at the hospital until you have arranged a funeral director and you have given them permission to move the body to a funeral home (or other location).
If the deceased had signed up with the Australian Organ Donor Register to be an organ/tissue donor, the suitability of their organs or tissues for donation must be assessed quickly. You can obtain more information from the Australian Organ Donor Register website.
You can register by filling out the form on the Medicare Australia website.
You must be 16 or older to register.
Despite registering on the Australian Organ Donor Register, family consent is still needed before donation can go ahead, so remember to discuss your decision with your family and those close to you.
Organ donations can take place when the deceased has suffered brain death in a hospital’s Intensive Care Unit while on a ventilator, as this keeps the blood flowing to their organs (meaning that their organs do not get damaged by lack of oxygen).
Before organ donation after death can occur, two senior doctors must separately test the deceased for brain death and the deceased’s family’s consent must also be obtained.
Corneas can be donated within 12 hours of brain death and other tissues (including organs) within 24 hours.
Organs can only be removed following cardiac death in very specific circumstances. You will be told if the deceased’s organs are suitable for donation following cardiac death.
A coronial investigation does not usually prevent a person from being a donor. In these cases, an organ donor coordinator contacts the Coroner to seek permission for donation to proceed.
Selecting a Funeral Home
In the hours after the deceased has died you will need to select a funeral director and start thinking about funeral and burial arrangements.
You should locate the deceased’s Will (if any), or other ‘letter of wishes’, so that you can find out if they had any special preferences regarding their funeral arrangements and the disposal of their body.
Burial or cremation arrangements should be discussed with a funeral director as soon as possible so that they can prepare the deceased’s body appropriately.
The deceased may have a pre-paid funeral or a funeral bond to cover expenses. This may also help you to select which funeral home to use. It may be that the pre-paid funeral or funeral bond is linked to a particular service provider.