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California state laws and regulations that affect your medical practice

1. What criteria may a physician use to declare a pronouncement of death?

Under California law, an individual is dead when he has sustained either (1) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions, or (2) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem. All determinations of death must be in accordance with accepted medical standards.

Cal. Health & Safety Code § 7180

2. What are the criteria and testing for determining a brain death?

The criterion for determining brain cessation is the “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem.”

Cal. Health & Safety Code § 7180

Under the law, a determination of death by brain cessation must be independently confirmed by another physician.

Cal. Health & Safety Code § 7181

California courts have declined to establish a particular set of criteria to be used in determining when a person is brain dead. Rather, they have deferred to medical professionals to determine when brain death has occurred.

Dority v. Superior Court, 145 Cal.App.3d 273 (1983)

3. What are a physician’s responsibilities related to death certificates?


Each death must be registered with the local registrar of births and deaths in the district in which the death was pronounced or a body was found.

Cal. Health & Safety Code § 102775

Funeral directors are responsible for preparing the certificate and registering it with the local registrar.

Cal. Health & Safety Code § 102775, 102780

The medical and health section of the death certificate must be complete and attested to by the physician “last in attendance” prior to the patient’s death.

Cal. Health & Safety Code § 102795

A physician must complete the medical and health section data within 15 hours of death and either deposit the certificate at the place or death or deliver the certificate to the Funeral director.

Cal. Health & Safety Code § 102800

Copyright © Kern Augustine Conroy and Schoppmann, P.C. Used with permission.

Updated 2008