Monday, 23 November 2009

Campaign for change in death certification in England and Wales

Sue Willis has started a petition for a change in the law concerning the issuing of death certificates, following the inaccurate recording of her late husband's cause of death in 2008.

Doctors are presently required to list their ‘best guess’ for a cause of death on a death certificate. Although a certificate can be reissued following a post mortem, where the cause may have been more correctly identified, the original cause is still retained in the document, with an amendment scribbled below at the bottom of the certificate. Often this is hard to notice and Sue believes the original cause of death may still be mistaken for the truth. In Sue’s own case, her husband John was wrongly certified as having died from a bowel and heart condition prior to a post mortem taking place a week later, when the cause of death was in fact later established to be Large B Cell Lymphoma.

Sue believes that the practice of ‘best guessing’ skews the national statistics concerning causes of death and misleads families when it may come to understanding hereditary illnesses - "How many families are left with certificates which retain distressing untruths with the true cause as an insignificant footnote?" As such, she has now launched a campaign to have the practice changed, and has so far attracted support from the English Shadow Justice Minister Henry Bellingham MP, Alan Slater (CEO of the National Association of Funeral Directors), and celebrities Zoe Ball and Norman Cook.

To sign the Downing Street petition, visit

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