20
Apr
06

“Violent and Unnatural?

On my dads autopsy report it stated violent, unatural
death, means/weapon. What does this mean? It was
classified an accidential death. However, the above
description does not make me feel that way. Please
comment.

Thank you.

Sherry

Sherry:

Autopsy reports generally contain the same “matter of fact” terminology that is commonly found on death certificates–very literal terms that refer to broad classifications. In your father’s case, “violent” and “unnatural” are the literal but broad terms (and fairly redundant as “violent” essentially implies the death was “unnatural.” The primary reason these terms are used is that they need to be “codeable” or placed into broad categories for the purpose of generating statistical data at a later date. As such, these terms are helpful to the poor soul who enters death info all day, but they can be very confusing to family members.

For families, it is usually best to focus on the pathologist’s conclusion at the end of the autopsy report (may be titled differently, but serves the same purpose). It is in this summation that the pathologist gives their reason for determining the cause and manner of death and consequently selecting the categories used when certifying the death.

Keep in mind, the “cause of death” is the precipitating factor that leads to the death and the “manner of death” is how the cause is classified. For example, a common cause of death is “Gunshot Wound to the Head.” Based on the circumstances of how the shooting occurred, the manner of death could be homicide, suicide, accident, or unknown.

Based on what you’ve written, the words “violent, unnatural death” says to me that the death wasn’t natural. Such a statement requires a certain degree of specification–in this case a weapon is listed as the means. If your father had died in a car crash, the report would likely have read “violent, unnatural death, means/vehicle” classified as an accidental death. At any rate, neither of these abbreviated explanations offers much detail as to how the individual became injured. That’s why I encourage you–as I have others–to focus on the pathologist’s conclusion when trying to understand the logic they used in classifying the death.

Upon reading “violent, unnatural death, means/weapon” I assume that the weapon was a firearm. That’s understandable and fairly common. The only curious thing that jumps out at me is that the death was classified “accidental.” Please note I said “curious” and not “inaccurate”–I certainly don’t know enough to argue one way or the other. It’s just that (in my experience) accidental firearm deaths are fairly rare. That said, I am forced to assume there was some fairly concrete evidence that the shooting was truly accidental (such as statements from more than one witness).

Also keep in mind that the logic of the pathologist or jurisdictional policy may play a role in any manner of death determination. Here’s a somewhat timely example:

Let’s say Vice President Dick Cheney actually had shot and killed his hunting partner. In some jurisdictions, the death of the hunting partner would be classified as an accident by the coroner/medical examiner. That seems reasonable enough as the Vice President didn’t intentionally shoot and kill the man. The District Attorney’s office could still prosecute the case as a negligent homicide if they so chose.

In other jurisdictions, the death could be classified as a homicide by the certifying office. Some jurisdictions don’t get involved in the argument of “intent” when one person kills another. When one person takes the life of another, they call that a homicide regardless of whether the assailant intentionally killed the deceased. The District Attorney’s office could elect not to prosecute such an act based on the circumstances even though a death resulted.

It’s a little tricky to explain that words appearing to be so exact are in actuality fairly vague to those seeking answers or closure. I hope I’ve answered your question instead of confusing you more.

A Douglas

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9 Responses to “”


  1. April 20, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    very interesting. glad you posted again, thought maybe you had run away…guess just too busy : )

  2. April 20, 2006 at 11:53 pm

    I’ve never had a death certificate in my experience but your explanation was illuminating. Hope it helps Sherry.

  3. April 21, 2006 at 2:34 am

    I have sent you an e-mail with my comments. Feel
    free to post them on your website.

    God Bless.

    Sherry

  4. April 23, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    That was a fine answer for Sherry’s question.

    I’d have had questions about that death certificate as well.

    The ones we generate from our office are very specific, and Florida’s Office of Vital Statistics seems to want more and more minutae on the Death Certificate each year.

  5. 5 Patricia
    April 26, 2006 at 10:23 am

    I really enjoy your website- I just wish you could write more!!

  6. April 29, 2006 at 12:07 am

    Spike,

    Thanks for your comments. Not sure what you mean’t.

    Sherry

  7. April 29, 2006 at 12:09 am

    Ed,

    There are probably two reports, one they give the family,
    and the real story they have. What do you think?

    Thank you.

    Sherry

  8. May 2, 2006 at 8:07 am

    Sherry –

    I can only speak for our office, but we never have two reports. The autopsy report is the autopsy report. The information contained therein is the same, no matter who will be furnished with the report.

    That said, we do not issue copies of the report until it is finalized. This means that all of the tests (toxicology) have to come in, all of the microscopic slides have to be “read” by the pathologist, all of the outside-agency investigative reports have to be collated… In its final form, the autopsy report represents the sum total of ALL of the work that goes into establishing cause and manner of death, even though the thrust of it reads like a blow-by-blow of the autopsy itself.

    To put it another way, a gunshot wound to the head can be suicide, homicide, or accident. The actual autopsy will bear out the same information, no matter what the manner of death is. The scene investigation, law enforcement investigation, subsequent interviews, etc are what help the Medical Examiner decide what manner of death to ascribe. The autopsy is only part of the picture, dig?

    I do know that the Death Certificates we give to the office of Vital Statistics in Tallahassee are slightly different from the ones that the funeral homes issue to the family of the decedent. Since I don’t “do” DC’s very often, I can’t expound intelligently on just how they differ. Sorry.

  9. November 4, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    please ancer any one , my step son was suppost to have taken 10 to 15 xanax 2 mg each on five he coudent move explain how he could have shot him self any one ancer please help


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