Contents

Chapter 5
An online process for certifying cause of death

Biographical and disposal details

5.24Currently, it is usual practice for the funeral director to notify the fact of the death, along with the cause of death and a range of biographical and disposal details, to the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages on behalf of the family. This is typically done via an online form called the BDM 28. We have identified three concerns with this process. First, the Registrar-General is not receiving the cause of death information directly from the certifying doctor or coroner. The cause of death information is health information that should be notified to the Registrar-General by a health professional, not by the funeral director (or family member when a funeral director is not engaged). Also, because the MCCD is currently a handwritten document, the funeral director must transcribe the cause of death information from the MCCD to the BDM 28 form. That increases the risk of errors through misinterpretation of the handwriting or through the doctor’s use of abbreviations or non-standardised language.

5.25Second, under this process, the Registrar-General receives notification of the death from only one source. In contrast, he or she receives notification of births from two sources—the hospital or medical facility in which the birth occurred and the parents of the baby. Each source is able to operate as a check on the receipt of information from the other source.

5.26Third, it may not always be clear who is meant by “the person who disposes of the body” and therefore who bears the responsibility for notification. It may be the funeral director, the sexton (who lowers the body into the ground), the cremator operator or the friend or family member who contracts with those people for the disposal of the body.

5.27We consider that these problems should be addressed by a new statutory system for notifying death that aligns with the notification of births process.46 Preliminary notice of death should be given to the Registrar-General, along with notification of the cause of death, by the certifying doctor. That could be easily achieved electronically by an automatic process after those details are entered on the online cause of death form.

5.28The obligation for the second notification of death should rest on the person or people who are making decisions about how the deceased body should be dealt with. In Part 4, we propose a new framework for making those decisions involving a deceased’s representative or, where one is not appointed, the executor. If there is also no executor appointed, the decisions fall to the family of the deceased. The person making these decisions about how the body should be disposed of should also have a statutory duty to notify the Registrar-General of the death. The Registrar-General would then match that information with the cause of death received directly from the online process.

5.29Of course, the people making decisions about the deceased body will often be grieving themselves, and there is a risk in those circumstances that the task of notifying the Registrar-General of the death will get overlooked. We expect that funeral directors would inform consumers of their responsibility in this regard, as they do now, and in many cases, decision-makers will contract with funeral directors to notify the Registrar-General on their behalf. This registration would also be completed electronically through the online system.

Recommendations

R7The Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act 1995 should be amended so that the doctor or coroner who determines the cause of death has a duty to provide preliminary notice of the death (and the cause of death) to the Registrar-General.

R8The Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act 1995 should also be amended to make it clear that a person making decisions about disposal of the body has a duty to notify the Registrar-General of the death (in the manner prescribed by regulations made under that Act).

46See Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act 1995, s 5A, for the process for preliminary notice of birth and s 9 for the primary responsibility for notification on the parents.