The primary cause of death (COD) provides important information in many studies of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). A panel of experts critically assessed the CODs submitted by 15 transplantation centers for 281 patients who died in a randomized multicenter trial of unrelated HSCT. The panel reviewed the CODs reported by the transplantation centers, which used the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research and National Marrow Donor Program COD reporting form. The panel determined that the existing criteria for primary and contributing CODs lacked sufficient stringency for uniform interpretation. A hierarchy was developed and applied to the T cell depletion project. Using its scheme, the panel reclassified 157 CODs (56%) reported by the transplantation centers. The changes resulted in increased recognition of graft-versus-host disease as the primary COD and a concomitant decrease in attribution of the primary COD to infection. This algorithm promotes consistent assignment of primary and contributing CODs for patients with leukemia or lymphoma who expire after myeloablative allogeneic HSCT.