How we describe people’s deaths


There was a news item yesterday about the death on a former TV news talk show personality Ed Schultz that said he died at the age of 64 of natural causes. One rarely hears that term used to describe people’s deaths any more. Usually they specify the proximate cause of death (cancer, heart failure, and so on). In the old days, dying from natural causes was the description given for someone who lived to a ripe old age, gradually became more and more infirm as their body started to fail in various ways due to the aging process, and then died more or less peacefully. But what does it mean these days to die of natural causes? After all, Schultz was not particularly old. I became curious as to what the term ‘natural causes’ has come to mean because after all, there has to be some cause.

A death certificate has to specify the cause of death and according to Wikipedia, physicians are discouraged from using the phrases ‘natural causes’ or ‘old age’ because it does not help in compiling health and mortality statistics.

A death by natural causes, as recorded by coroners and on death certificates and associated documents, is the end result of an illness or an internal malfunction of the body not directly caused by external forces, typically due to old age. This is especially true when an elderly person has several different conditions or diseases, but where it appears that none of them alone or together may clearly lead to the death, and it is uncertain which condition was the final factor causing death… Health departments discourage listing old age as the cause of death because doing so does not benefit public health or medical research. Old age is not a scientifically recognized cause of death; there is always a more direct cause, although it may be unknown in certain cases and could be one of a number of aging-associated diseases.

In obituaries, there seem to be some conventions. People who die of cancer are almost invariably said to have succumbed after ‘battling’ the disease, but that fight metaphor is not usually applied to those who die due to other diseases, although they too may have undergone long and arduous treatments.

Comments

  1. says

    People who die of cancer are almost invariably said to have succumbed after ‘battling’ the disease, but that fight metaphor is not usually applied to those who die due to other diseases, although they too may have undergone long and arduous treatments.

    Cancer is the scariest of them all. I’m now in my 7th month of treatment for colorectal cancer, and I think the reason ‘the fight’ gets a mention is because cancer treatment is not like other treatments, in any way. Right now, I’d trade “arduous” for the last 7 months in a heartbeat. The ins and outs of treatment are in my cancer chronicles, but for the most part, this year has been one huge fucking misery, and I have never been this damn sick in all my 60 years. I still have 4 more weeks of radiation, and to do my time with that, I’ve been uprooted, had to move into an apartment in Bismarck, away from my family and home. Then I have at least two surgeries coming up, then four more cycles of chemo before I can finally get the fuck out from under this nasty disease. I might be finished in November. Maybe. I was diagnosed last December.

  2. Heidi Nemeth says

    Years ago – maybe 50? – it was typical to perform an autopsy. Nowadays, not so much. When it was typical, 10% of the declared causes of death were found to be wrong. With the current disuse of autopsies, the cause of death is usually not scrutinized – and probably still often wrong.

    My stepfather died a couple of years ago at the age of 90. He had dementia, oral cancer, emphysema, fibromyalgia, and hadn’t eaten for about a month. He died peacefully in an assisted living facility. His death certificate stated cause of death to be acute cardiac failure and acute respiratory failure. His gerontologist saw no reason to be more specific. It’s simply the old age diagnosis renamed.

    More troubling, the gerontologist stated he “did not know” if the death was due or partly due to smoking. Had he ever paid any attention to my stepfather’s medical history, he would have know about Charlie’s 40+ years of heavy smoking and the ensuing fatal medical problems, all of which were present at the time of his demise.

  3. DavidinOz says

    Quirky, I suspect that Caine will continue with medical treatment, not quackery.

    Even your linked website admits that most of its claims are false and unproven.

    Disclaimer: The content of this website is based solely on research conducted by TSP Publishing LLC (“TSP Publishing”), unless otherwise noted. The information is presented “as is” for your educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or prescribe for any medical or psychological condition, nor to prevent, treat, mitigate or cure such conditions or prevent any disease. TSP Publishing has no duty whatsoever to update any information on this website.

    Feel free to die your own way and eschew medical advice, but don’t drag children in to your farrago of lies.

  4. coragyps says

    The circumlocutions used for suicides, in particular, can get pretty strange sometimes. My son’s obit was a family effort, and kind of left the cause of death unsaid – though it did ask for any memorial contributions to go to mental health related charities.
    The same goes for overdoses – survivors don’t typically want to advertise those, but the reader just can’t help wondering what happened when a twentysomething dies. We’re all pretty peculiar about death…..

  5. Quirky says

    @ DavidinOz, you stated that “Even your linked website admits that most of its claims are false and unproven”
    .
    But the disclaimer in no way admits that its “claims are false and unproven”.
    .
    Furthermore if you would take the time to fully investigate what is actually being accomplished using cannabis you might realize your error.
    .
    Cannabis doesn’t always cure all cancer all the time, but neither does synthetic chemo.
    .
    Many families have traveled to states where cannabis treatments for a number of ailments are legally available and have experienced positive results for their loved ones.
    .
    I didn’t suggest the info to Caine so as to impose cannabis medications upon him as a method of treatment any more so that I would impose chemo as a means of treatment on you or anyone else.
    .
    Many children are being helped by various cannabis medications so it is not a “farrago of lies”.
    .
    Certainly someone has to take the risk of what path to follow. The decision is risky no matter which path one takes. If parents make the choice and the child suffers, they are blamed. Why is there never any blame placed upon those who administer chemo when the outcome is not positive?
    .
    They will say, “We did all we could, we’re so sorry”. But the truth is quite the opposite. Oftentimes, after hearing the words, “We don’t know anything else to do” patients have turned to natural remedies and survived. I personally know this to be a fact in several cases.

  6. jrkrideau says

    Looks like Quirky gets to qualify as a dedicated peddler of whacky and bloody dangerous quack medicine.

    Can This One Sacred Plant Really Prevent, Treat And Even Beat
    Cancer, Chronic Pain & Hundreds Of Diseases?

    Yep, first indication of a quack or a fraud Hundreds Of Diseases. I wonder if it also cures thrush in horses? It cannot be that hard to teach a horse to smoke.
    Second Indication of a quack: Lots of meaningless testimonials.

    Keep up the good work Quirky. You may not have killed anyone yet.

  7. DonDueed says

    When I saw the title of this post, I thought it would be about the way many of us shy away from using the words “die” and “death”. People seem to like to put some emotional distance in their language by using euphemisms like “passed” or “expired”. Is that universal, or more of an American or English-language phenomenon?

  8. coragyps says

    And that’s weird too, DonD. I don’t know that I ever heard “passed” for “passed on” until maybe fifteen years ago. And “passed on” was funeral home director lingo decades ago where I grew up. Civilians could say “died” without any gasps from folks nearby.

  9. file thirteen says

    Sorry to hear it Caine. Cancer is horrible and chemo/radio is utterly horrible. Here’s hoping you’re past the worst.

  10. Holms says

    #7
    The disclaimer admits that the information pertaining to this treatment “is not intended to diagnose or prescribe for any medical or psychological condition, nor to prevent, treat, mitigate or cure such conditions or prevent any disease.” Furthermore, it admits that all such information comes not from a credible research institute of any sort, but from a publishing company with no duty of care to update any of the information.

    So, DavidinOz was right to point to that disclaimer.

    ___
    #8
    I would say the title being in the form of a question is another red flag, as it is an invitation for weasel word support such as ‘many people are saying…’ and similar.

  11. jrkrideau says

    @ 12 Holms
    Re @7
    This is known in the trade as the fake disclaimer. Often seen on quack medicine websites, presumably as a way to keep licencing boards, and, in the USA, the FDA, or Canadian and EU equivalents, from dropping in for a little chat.

    I do not know if it is effective or just repeated as an incantation but it is another strong indication of quackery.

  12. robert79 says

    “physicians are discouraged from using the phrases ‘natural causes’ or ‘old age’ because it does not help in compiling health and mortality statistics.”

    Except this will also distort the statistics. As a doctor in the family once told me, if there’s no clear cause of death the only thing you’re certain of is that the heart is no longer beating. So you write down “heart failure”, according to him this has resulted in heart disease being overrepresented in mortality statistics.

  13. Quirky says

    @ jrkrideau who writes, “Second Indication of a quack: Lots of meaningless testimonials.”
    .
    Go ask the ones making these testimonials how meaningless they are. Then ask the loved ones of those who have died from medical mistakes involving prescription drugs how meaningless the advice of the physicians that treated their loved one was.
    .
    How Dangerous is FDA approved medicines? CDC says overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than 1999,1 and sales of these prescription drugs have quadrupled.Out of the 783,936 annual deaths from conventional medicine mistakes, approximately 106,000 of those are the result of prescription drug use.
    .
    According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, two-hundred and ninety people in the United States are killed by prescription drugs every day. [this was in 2000, and the situation hasn’t improved]
    See Starfield, B. (2000). The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Vol 284, No 4. Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.
    .
    The Sacred Plant Documentary Series can be watched for free this weekend at http://thesacredplant.ontraport.com/c/s/qIX/Ydj6N/6/QW/6YwU/61FhRD/sWw97sGy7J/P/P
    .
    If you aren’t interested in hearing what jrkrideau characterizes as meaningless testimonials of scientists, doctors , and patients who have actually experienced remedy for various diseases, then don’t waste your time.
    .
    I hope you are never sick enough that you are forced to become willing to try something the medical industry doesn’t recognize as a treatment. But the fact remains that there are people that are that sick. There are also people whose financial livelihood is dependent upon channeling everyone in the door of conventional medicine and maintaining the status quo. I hope you are not one of them.

  14. jrkrideau says

    Ah yes, now we have the traditional quack medicine response including the JAMA article. I think these quacks have a script that they are required to use….
    The ” I hope blah, blah” and the implication that health providers are in it just for the money are both there. We seem to have missed the Big Phara rant but it may turn up.
    It is nice to see that Quirky is following the script correctly but it must get boring. It certainly gets boring reading it.

  15. DavidinOz says

    There are also people whose financial livelihood is dependent upon channeling everyone in the door of conventional medicine and maintaining the status quo.

    Unlike the purveyors of the magic weed who do it all with no thought of a profit. I mean, who has ever heard of anyone making money from homeopathic products?

  16. Quirky says

    @ DavidinOz #17
    .
    in states where it isn’t illegal to grow, there are many people who provide medication both for themselves and/or family members.
    .
    I have never suggested that conventional practitioners are in it only for the money. That being said, the use of cannabis by people as an alternative medicine does cut deep into the financial pockets of conventional practitioners and the entire established medical industry.
    .
    Often times cannabis is used as an adjunct to conventional modalities. Persons like Caine for example discover great relief from the side effects of chemo. Many options on the table only increase the likelihood that a person might discover what works best for them.
    .
    Too bad you would rather blind yourself to the reality that not everyone is obligated to follow the life path you think is best.

  17. DavidinOz says

    Oh Quirky, how Trumpian of you to deny saying the thing that I quoted you saying. They are your words, own them.

    Too bad you would rather blind yourself to the reality that not everyone is obligated to follow the life path you think is best.

    And yet, here you are, prescribing a medication with no knowledge of the diagnosis or treatment a person is undergoing. I hold out long term hope for therapeutic uses of cannabis, bit that will not come from a shonky anon on the interwebs spruiking a shonky web site with disclaimers through the roof.

  18. says

    Oh for fuck’s sake. Quirky, thanks for the sympathy, but you are full of shit, and if you bothered to wander over to Affinity, and read my cancer chronicles, you would have found I have absolutely NO TOLERANCE for fucking quackery or those who promote it. You need to shut up, and stop promoting such irresponsible crap. Like most people who promote such shit, you have absolutely no idea of what having cancer is like for those who have it or those who are the caregivers. Useless, pointless ‘advice’ is not welcome.

    Weed is fine for nausea relief, and for some people, it can help with pain. I am not an idiot, and medical weed is kind of a thing, y’know. FFS. My very late thanks to all of you who tackled this rotten garbage, which like all other cancer “cures”, will cause the death of too many people.

  19. Quirky says

    Suit yourself Caine. What I have discovered about almost everyone who comments on this site is that very few are grown up enough to discuss anything without attacking some messenger, whether it be me or someone else.
    .
    This particular thread is chocked full of such ad hominem. I wonder if this is the way you treat people in real life; or is this just the way you see yourself as a keyboard warrior?

  20. Onamission5 says

    Quirky @21:

    Pointing out that your “miracle plant” claims are specious and unscientific is not an ad hominem. Making the observation that your behavior is rude and unwarranted, and that the so-called research you provide is anything but, is also not ad hominem, nor is making the observation that amongst people who peddle specious claims, certain patterns of behavior can be readily observed.

  21. Jenora Feuer says

    @jrkrideau:

    fake disclaimer

    Considering I’ve seen you over on Respectful Insolence (which also has a low tolerance for ‘cannabis can cure everything!’ quacks) I’m surprised you didn’t actually use the term ‘quack miranda warning’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *