Immediately after someone has died can be a very difficult time. Not only are you bereaved and in mourning but there are a number of practical issues that need to be dealt with including getting the medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD) from the doctor, registering the death, arranging the funeral and looking into the will.
Medical certificate of cause of death
The doctor will normally give you the medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD) just after the death or the next day. The certificate will be written by the doctor who was looking after the person who has died. On occasion, it may take longer than a few days for the MCCD to be completed, for example if the doctor needs to find out more about why someone died.
You will need to take the MCCD with you to register the death at an office of the registrar of births, marriages and deaths.
The MCCD will include information about the person who has died, including what caused their death. You should read the MCCD and ask the doctor to explain anything you don’t understand. The doctor who fills in the MCCD will use technical and medical terms and they should explain these to you if you're not familiar with the terms used. It's best to read this before you go to the registrar’s office.
As of the 13th May 2015, the Scottish Government have introduced changes to the way in which deaths are certified and registered in Scotland. Find out more on the Healthcare Improvement Scotland website.
If the person died in hospital and you'd like to go back to see them, you can ask the ward staff to arrange this for you.
You can ask a funeral director to arrange for you to see the person at the funeral home. A funeral director can usually arrange for the person who has died to be at home before the funeral, if this is what you wish.
You should tell the doctor or hospital staff if the person wished to donate their organs or tissue. You will need to explain that you know this because the person:
- told you about this
- included their wishes in a will, or
- had a donor card or signed the Organ Donor Register
It may be possible to use tissue for transplant, but this must be done within 48 hours of the death.
A hospital post-mortem (sometimes called an autopsy) is the medical examination of a person who has died.
Sometimes the doctor will ask for a hospital post-mortem to find out more about why someone died.
If they decide this is necessary, the doctor will always discuss it with you first. A hospital post-mortem can only be carried out if the person gave their consent before they died, or if their nearest relative agrees to it.
Reporting a death to the procurator fiscal
When a death is sudden, unexplained, or caused by an industrial illness it must be reported to the procurator fiscal.
Doctors, registrars or the police usually report such deaths, but anyone who is concerned about a death can contact the procurator fiscal.
If the procurator fiscal decides to investigate a death, the police will often speak to the doctor or relatives of the person who has died. This is to gather information that'll help the procurator fiscal reach a decision.
The procurator fiscal:
- may also order a post-mortem to confirm the cause of death
- will try to answer any questions you may have
- will complete their investigations as quickly as possible
To find out more about this, visit the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service website.