Death in the emergency department

Ann Emerg Med. 1998 Jun;31(6):758-65. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(98)70236-7.


Issues regarding the deaths of patients in the ED arise on a regular basis for emergency physicians. These issues include physician discomfort with death notification, the approach to families after ED deaths, autopsies, donation of organs and tissues, and procedures on the newly dead. If physicians were more comfortable with death notification, not only would families be better served but benefits to society could be realized through the increased use of autopsy and organ/tissue donation. The controversial topic of physician education through practice of medical procedures on the newly dead weighs the benefits to society against the rights of the individual. Improved physician education, including the need for a death notification plan and enlistment of the support of nursing personnel, social workers, and clergy, may improve the experience of events surrounding ED deaths for physicians, families, and society. We review the literature and give recommendations on approaches to deal with these issues.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Death
  • Autopsy
  • Death*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Family*
  • Humans
  • Physician's Role
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Tissue Donors