In the UK, unexplained sudden death is frequently recorded as due to death from natural causes. Experts believe that most of these deaths are due to sudden cardiac death. Until the law is changed and coroners have to refer hearts on to specialists we will not know the true figures. CRY’s fast track coroner / pathology service enables the cause of death in a sudden death case to be established more quickly and accurately than might otherwise happen if left to a local coroner who does not have expertise in cardiac pathology.
Any death where the cause is not immediately known has to – by law – be reported to the coroner. This is in addition to deaths that are due to non-natural causes. About one third of all deaths are reported to the coroner.
If it can be established clearly and reasonably quickly that the death is not due to some non-natural cause or outside influence (such as injury, drugs, poisoning, etc) but is due to a cause – however unexpected or rare – that arises from spontaneously occurring physiology, then the death will be certified by the coroner as due to natural causes. That cause will be stated and documents will be issued to enable the death to be registered and the funeral to go ahead.
Such deaths are classified as ‘death from natural causes’. Yet to bereaved families, there can seem to be nothing less natural than to lose an active young person in this way. Frequently there have been no apparent symptoms; usually the young person will have died whilst engaged in some perfectly normal activity – eating, drinking, taking exercise or in their sleep.
The death of a child or young adult is so totally out of order with the sequence of life that it can have devastating consequences within the family, and also the wider community.
With sudden cardiac death, not only has there been no preparation for such a death (as in terminal illness), but nor is the death accidental – when there is an obvious and direct link between an occurrence and the tragic consequences. This can lead to those closest to the one that has died blaming themselves for overlooking possible symptoms. Dealing with their terrible loss is then compounded by feelings of guilt. See the counselling section for more on this.