Any suitably qualified individual, e.g. medical professional or registered nurse, can verify that a death has occurred. There is no legal definition of death in the UK, however, the body should be examined and a record made of this.

Examining the body

Please be aware and sensitive to cultural and faith considerations. Several Asian religions object to contact with the body; disposable gloves should be worn and the body kept covered with a plain white sheet. Jewish patients should not be touched until twenty minutes after death.

When examining the body you should:

  • Check for spontaneous movement, including respiratory effort
  • Check for reaction to voice and pain (sternal rub or supraorbital nerve)
  • Palpate at least two major pulses for one minute
  • Inspect the eyes looking for dryness, fixed dilated pupils, absence of corneal reflexes and clouding of the cornea
  • Auscultate the heart and lungs for one minute
  • Remember to note if a pacemaker or other implantable device is present.

Where the patient is hypothermic, greater care needs to be taken before verifying death. The one minute tests indicated above are inadequate and need to be of five minutes duration.


Write in the case-notes

You should record in the case notes:

  • The date and time of death (the time the patient actually died, even if this is according to other staff, rather than observations when the death was verified)
  • When you were contacted and the date and time of certification, if this is different
  • A description of what was done to establish death
  • What was written on the certificate 
  • Whether a pacemaker or other implantable device was present
  • Whether the family know if the deceased wished cremation or not
  • Whether the GP or Coroner/Procurator Fiscal has been informed of the death.