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Chapter 4

PSY 802 Chapter Notes - Chapter 4: Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, Death Certificate, Medical Examiner

Course Code
PSY 802
Thomas Hart

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Robert Kastenbaum’s death system: the interpersonal, sociophysical, and symbolic network through
which an individual’s relationship to mortality is mediated by his or her society
People (funeral directors, health care professionals, etc.)
Places (cemeteries, disaster sites, etc.)
Times (religious commemorations such as anniversaries)
Objects (obituaries, electric chair, etc.)
Symbols (black armbands, skulls and crossbones, etc.)
Internet (thanatechnological death system)
Death systems vary across societies and times, but include these elements:
Warnings and predictions about life-threatening events
Preventing death
Caring for dying
Disposing of dead (e.g. memorialization processes)
Social consolidation after death
Making sense of death
Death systems manage phenomenon of death in all its varied manifestations; policing of grief: defines
rules of grieving (“shoulds” and “should nots” that govern individual responses to loss)
Circumstances surrounding a person’s dying typically occur as a result of decisions made through “social
process of negotiating meanings”
Death certificates reflect both private and public function in death system; document used to certify
facts of death (summary of data regarding the deceased and mode/place of death; outlines legalities of
what is left behind by the deceased)
Certification/registration of death is most important procedure following a death; required by all
jurisdictions in United States (constitutes legal proof of death); certificates may vary slightly, but must
follow format outlined by United States Standard Certificate of Death
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Death certificates generally completed by funeral directors, who get personal data from best source
available (usually next of kin) and cause-of-death information from physician, medical examiner, or
Filed in state where death occurred
Modes of death on certificate (not the same as cause):
Lack of training said to be the greatest contributor to poor quality of mortality data (since physicians
must simplify what is often complex)
When death occurs suddenly/suspiciously (unordinary death) – or no physician present/able to attest to
cause of death – must be determined by death investigator (coroner or medical examiner)
Coroner: elected official; no special background or training
Medical examiner: appointed official; physicians with advanced training in forensics and
Coroners and medical examiners often play key role in community health programs (e.g. suicide
Thanatography: written account of a person’s death by death investigator
Autopsy (if not ordered by law, requires consent of next of kin): medical examination of a body after
death to determine cause of death or investigate nature of changes caused by disease
Abdominal cavity is exposed and organs removed to examine their structure (small samples may
be taken)
If not needed for further study, organs replaces and incisions closed
Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (Ontario: Trillium Gift of Life Act): deceased may have donated body for
autopsy under these provisions
Positive identification of human remains can be made from: hair/bone fragments and DNA analysis of
relatively few cells
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