Certificate Not for Wall Hanging

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We receive all kinds of certificates in our lifetime. Certificate of graduation from schooling, from kindergarten to college. Certificate of completion of a certain training, like dog grooming or polka dancing. Certificate of accomplishment, like no absences at work for a year or the most coffee consumed in a day at work. There are certificates of whatever you can think of and there is not enough walls to hang them all.

Then there is a certificate that we cannot exist without (at least in the era when we started recording births), that is the birth certificate. And there is a certificate when we cannot exist anymore, that is the death certificate.

As a medical doctor, I have issued and signed many certificates for my patients, like certificate of medical necessity, or certification of treatment received, or certification of disability. But since I don’t deliver babies, I don’t sign birth certificates. A doctor must be proud to sign his name in a record of a person that he had helped bring into this world, and that will be part of a person’s legacy, that is the birth certificate.

I don’t think that is the case though, in signing death certificates. But that is what I usually sign, due to the nature of my subspecialty as a Critical Care Specialist, working in the ICU. I know I did not cause their death (their illness did), nor did they die due to my care. It is just that I was the last one who cared for them before they died. I sure would like not to sign those, of course I wish they didn’t die in the first place. But signing their death certificate is my responsibility, my duty, and my last service to the patient.

In the past few weeks, the Medical Examiner’s office have called my office several times, asking for the cause of death of patients I took care of, (as an officially signed death certificate may not be available for several days to weeks after a person’s death) to make sure that there’s no investigation needed, before the family bury or cremate the remains of their loved ones. The Medical Examiner’s office I think, even have my phone number on speed dial. The funeral homes recognizes my signature more than the pharmacies. It’s scary.

Yesterday, I signed 5 death certificates. Certificates that will go on permanent records. I find no pleasure in signing them, nor am I proud of it. Every one of those, means a life that will never come back. Lives that checked out of this world. May they rest in peace. And may I be at peace.


  1. If there is someone I know who is strong enough to deal with situations like this, it’s you. And you do it with compassion and humility. I’m sure the families of the persons you signed the certificates for appreciate that. You are eminently suited to your profession – your hospital is blessed to have you.

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