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AGO 1953 No. 65 - June 04, 1953
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICERS ‑-DEATH ‑-DEATH CERTIFICATES ‑- WHO SHOULD SIGN

1. Where death occurs without medical attendance and circumstances suggest that the death or still-birth [[stillbirth]]was caused by unlawful or unnatural causes, the coroner, or if there is no coroner, the prosecuting attorney should sign the death certificate.

2. Where death occurs without medical attendance and there is no suspicion of death from unlawful or unnatural causes, either the local health officer, his deputy, or the coroner; or if there is no health officer and no coroner, then the prosecuting attorney should sign the certificate.

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                                                                    June 4, 1953

Honorable Charles O. Carroll
Prosecuting Attorney
King County
County-City Building
Seattle, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 65

Attention:  !ttMr. K. G. Smiles,
            Chief Civil Deputy

Dear Sir:

            You have requested our opinion upon the following questions, arising under section 5, chapter 188, Laws of 1953:

            "1. What official or officials should sign the death certificate when death occurs without medical attendance and the circumstances suggest that the death or still-birth [[stillbirth]]was caused by unlawful or unnatural causes?

            "2. What official or officials has the authority to complete and sign the death certificate where death occurs without medical attendance and there is no suspicion of death from unlawful or unnatural causes?"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Our conclusions are set forth in the analysis below.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Section 5, chapter 188, Laws of 1953, provides:

            "If the death occurred without medical attendance, the funeral director or person in charge of interment shall notify the coroner, or prosecuting attorney if there is no coroner in the county.  If the circumstances suggest that the death or still-birth was caused by unlawful or unnatural causes or if there is no local health officer with jurisdiction,the coroner, or if none, the prosecuting attorney shall complete and sign the certification, noting upon the certificate that no physician was in attendance at the time of death.  In case of any death without medical attention in which there is no suspicion of death from unlawful or unnatural causes, the local health officer or his deputy, the coroner and if none, the prosecuting attorney, shall complete and sign the certification, * * *" (Emphasis supplied)

            1. The answer to your first question is that the coroner, or if there is no coroner, the prosecuting attorney, should sign the certificate.

            2. The answer to your second question is that either the local health officer, his deputy, or the coroner, or if there is no health officer and no coroner, the prosecuting attorney should sign the certificate.

            In our opinion, the language "or if there is no local health officer with jurisdiction" appearing in the second sentence of the statute merely defines the same situation which is again covered in the third sentence.  In other words, regardless of the circumstances of the death, if there is no local health officer, the coroner should sign the certificate.  If there is no coroner, the prosecuting attorney should then sign the certificate.

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General

RALPH M. DAVIS
Assistant Attorney General

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