The end of the hand-written document that attests you’re dead

I was going through some papers of my 95-year-old mother the other day when I stumbled on the death certificate for my father, who had a stroke a few hours before the Super Bowl in 2004, and languished for a month before he died.

A death certificate is a bucket of water. It’s cold. It’s clinical. It’s certainly final. At the same time, though, there was a humanity to it because it was filled out by hand. I could barely make out the cause of death the medical examiner had indicated, but it was a human hand nonetheless and for the last time in his life, perhaps, someone had to spend a few moments writing my dad’s name. The signature was like an autograph attesting to the fact my father was once alive.

I thought of that today when word came those days are over in Minnesota. The state’s department of health announced in a press release today that death certificates will now be filed online only. Paper and handwriting are dead.

There’s a good reason for it. Families can get death certificates faster and paper filings were declining anyway. Last year, 97 percent of them were filed electronically, the release said.

Paper submission has been on the decline since Minnesota implemented electronic death registration 20 years ago. However due to Project Paper Cut, it has boosted e-death registration among clinicians, including physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners, from 80 percent to 97 percent during the past year.

“We’ve made such great progress that this fall is the right time to finally go completely electronic,” said State Registrar Molly Crawford. “E-filing is a real benefit to grieving Minnesota families. It allows us to get more complete and accurate death certificates to families faster when both the fact and cause of death are entered directly into the Minnesota Registration and Certification System, a secure, real-time, web-based application.”

Minnesota’s Paper Cut initiative was funded by a federal grant that is part of a national effort by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve the quality and timeliness of death records. Under the Minnesota Vital Records Act, the state registrar manages the statewide system to collect, file, register and issue vital records.

Previously, some physicians wrote out the cause of death information on worksheets, then wrote the same information on faxed requests to authorize cremation and then logged into Minnesota’s e-death certification system and completed the same information even a third time.

In Minnesota, death is efficient and a little less human.

(h/t: Sasha Aslanian)