What is the Mechanism of Death?

You’ve heard of the ‘cause of death’ and the ‘manner of death’. But have you heard of the ‘mechanism of death?’ In this guide, learn about the third characteristic of death, which makes up an important part of the death certificate.
What is the Mechanism of Death?

During an autopsy, and when someone dies, coroners, physicians and medical examiners have to determine three separate things to fill out the death certificate: One is the cause of death, another is the manner of death, and the third is the mechanism of death.

What is the mechanism of death?

The mechanism of death refers to the physiological change in the body that brought about the death. For example, if the cause of death is due to a gunshot, the mechanism of death may be loss of blood, exsanguination, or the cessation of brain function. 

Why is the mechanism of death important?

For a few reasons. All three of these characteristics (cause of death, manner of death and mechanism of death) are vital for a coroner, as they are often included on death certificates all around the world.

Additionally, knowing why a loved one died is important for people who have lost loved ones, as in some cases, it can give them peace of mind. Moreover, in criminal proceedings, the Courts often refer to these characteristics.

The difference between the three categories

We get it – understanding the difference between the three categories can be confusing. If you’re still struggling to grasp the concept, you can view the ‘mechanism of death’ as the most specific explanation of how a person died. On the other hand, ‘cause of death’ is a broader category – it may list events like a ‘car accident’ or ‘gunshot wounds’, while ‘manner of death’ describes how a death has occurred, which may be: Homicide, Suicide, Accidental, Natural, Undetermined or Pending.

Examples of mechanisms of death

Mechanisms of death typically refer to the brain, the heart, or both. They may appear as one of these:

  • Seizures
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Electrocution 
  • Exsanguination (this refers to severe loss of blood)
  • Hypothermia
  • Anaphylactic shock 
  • Sepsis

...and more.

Unlike the cause of death or manner of death, a mechanism of death isn’t necessarily conclusive. In some cases, multiple mechanisms of death are noted in one autopsy. 

Wrap up

While the mechanism of death is the lesser-known category of the three, it is a vital part of the death process and is important to ensure that the death certificate is accurate. 

You might only come across a death certificate when a loved one passes away. And, if you are looking into your ancestry or genealogy, you may discover a historic death certificate. These may be able to tell you details about a person’s life and death, such as where they were born, how they died and perhaps where they were buried.

Found this blog fascinating? Learn more about autopsies (aka post-mortems).

If all this talk about death is making you want to get planning, discover how you can start or update your legal Will with our handy guide.

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