PENNSYLVANIA - DEATH CERTIFICATES

January 1, 2008

Pennsylvania state laws and regulations that affect your medical practice

1. When may a physician declare a pronouncement of death?

Only an individual who 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, is dead. A determination of death must be made in accordance with accepted medical standards.

35 P.S. § 10203

Professional licensed nurses who are involved in direct care of a patient shall have the authority to pronounce death, in the case of death from natural causes of a patient who is under the care of a physician when the physician is unable to be present within a reasonable period of time to certify the cause of death. Professional nurses shall have the authority to release the body of the deceased to a funeral director after notice has been given to the attending physician, when the deceased has an attending physician, and to a family member. If circumstances surrounding the nature of death are not anticipated and require a coroner's investigation, the professional nurse shall notify the county coroner, and the authority to release the body of the deceased to the funeral director shall be that of the coroner. While a professional nurse may make a pronouncement of death, the nurse is in no way authorized to determine the cause of death. The responsibility for determining the cause of death remains with the physician or the coroner.

35 P.S. § 450.507

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