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)

  • jon

    So long as it’s accurate I don’t care about the document that says I’m dead… I’m we’ll pay the point of caring… Though the ones that say other people are dead might be of a concern at some point to me…

    • Death certificates and other flotsam and jetsam of the past aren’t really for you anyway.

      I’ve often wondered about how the digitalization of our lives will affect the physical legacy that we ever existed for the next generation or two.

      I figure it’s making it much easier to erase any evidence that we were ever here.

      • Justin McKinney

        //I figure it’s making it much easier to erase any evidence that we were ever here.

        I wonder how often this is a thing now with modern-day criminals and the like. Also, are there nefarious motives here? I’m no conspiracy theorist, but I have to imagine someone is taking advantage of this digitization movement.

      • Jeff C.

        Life in the digital age – Everything is permanent yet nothing is forever.

  • Gary F

    I’m sorry to hear about your father. He missed the “wardrobe incident” half time show. Great obituary, he sounded like a great man.

    And the mortician says you need to buy ten copies of the death certificate and you only need about 2.

  • ec99

    I have death certificates for my relatives going back nearly a century. What one notes is the fact that hand writing was once taught in schools.

  • Rob

    I hope the e-deathcert system is working better than the new DPS system…

  • Al Iverson

    Death is still death, whether it be logged by pixel or by pencil. Both of my parents died in the past few years, those were all electronic death certificates. Had to order a handful of each to prove to creditors that their bills weren’t going to get paid. The existence of the certificate feels very real enough regardless of format or print.

    • I didn’t say it didn’t feel real. I said it had a real sense of humanity to it.

      • Al Iverson

        I hear you. Not to belabor the point, but from my perspective, it wouldn’t have conveyed any sense of humanity by having it filled out by hand. It was still written by somebody I didn’t know, as they documented the finality of death for somebody they didn’t know.

    • kevins

      Me too. My first son died on 7/1. The death certificate was ornate, informative but cold…and necessary.

  • Bob Sinclair

    At the risk of sounding insensitive: is this what is meant by death by a thousand paper cuts?

  • Al

    You guys, I know it seems like one more thing The Man is taking away from you, but we are so strapped for resources over here.

    If we stop hand-writing something for a person who’s (truly sadly and unfortunately) dead so we can better help a person who’s alive, then at the risk of sounding callous, I’m pretty damn good with that.

    • Don’t misread my lament. It has nothing to do with the man. It just has to do with the natural progression of change. It makes sense. It’s just an acknowledgement that we lose something.

      I got a very nice note from Molly Crawford, the state registrar, who acknowledged what you’ve noted but also said she treasures the handwritten recipes from her grandmother too.