Brendan M. Reilly, MD
Requests for Single Reprints: Brendan M. Reilly, MD, Room 2129, Department of Medicine, Cook County Hospital and Rush Medical College, 1835 West Harrison Street, Chicago, IL 60612.
Reilly BM. Pronouncing. Ann Intern Med. 2001;135:467-470. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-135-6-200109180-00017
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2001;135(6):467-470.
Many years ago, when I was just starting out, I worked in a small New England town where local law stated that the newly deceased were not duly deceased until pronounced by a licensed physician. Legally, the undertaker couldn't take over—you weren't really dead—until a doctor said so.
At first, this sounded harmless enough, even quaintly appealing, a vestige of simpler times when doctors really were gatekeepers, ushering lifeless folks out of the world and delivering new ones into it. But that whimsy dissipated soon. My nights on call, preoccupied plenty with the living, brought frequent “requests” to pronounce the dead—now, tonight, it wasn't “decent” to wait until morning. Whether the call came from the local nursing home or from a distraught spouse suddenly alone deep in the New Hampshire woods, I was expected to drop whatever I was doing, travel to wherever the recently departed had recently departed, and pronounce the passing as officially passed. This seemed to me an inefficient use of my time. After one especially well-traveled night on call I expressed this opinion to the local undertaker, who seemed friendly enough (and remarkably well rested) but who said simply, “That's the way we've always done it in these parts, doc.”
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Print ISSN: 0003-4819 | Online ISSN: 1539-3704
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