Short versions of death certs ‘won’t hide’ difficult realities

Government officials have insisted plans to allow a "short-form" death certificate to be given to families whose loved one has died in difficult circumstances will not hide the reality of suicide and drug deaths from wider society.

Reacting to concerns raised by one coroner over the draft rules, which are expected to be in place within weeks, a spokesman for Tánaiste Joan Burton said the sole intention of the move was to make life easier for grieving relatives.

The spokesman said that while the short-form death certificate option is not intended to include the exact details of how a person passed away, this will have no impact on the Register of Deaths in Ireland.

This is because a long- form version of the certificate will continue to be drawn up in inquests and used as the basis of official statistics, as is current practice.

The spokesman said the short-form document will only be used by relatives for official purposes such as canceling the deceased’s bank account.

While the change in approach will be available to all families whose loved one has died and who do not want to publicly state how this has occurred, it is expected that individuals who have lost relatives in traumatic ways such as suicide and drug addiction are likely to be its main users.

Officials said they expected this to reduce the number of deaths likely to have been the result of suicide being registered as “misadventure” or other terms by coroners aware of the difficulties some families may have with the verdict — a situation which has damaged the accuracy of statistics on the issue in the past.

The decision to put in place a short-form death certificate option was heavily criticised yesterday by east and south Kerry coroner, Terence Casey

Mr Casey, who has been an outspoken crusader for openness on the issue for a number of years, had argued that the proposed change “is going to defeat the whole purpose of what I’ve been trying to do over the last three to four years”.

“I believe it’s better for people themselves to talk about it because they will then be more inclined to seek help,” he stressed.

While there are officially just over 400 deaths by suicide in Ireland every year, the campaign and advocacy groups have consistently said the true rate is likely to be far higher as not all deaths in this way are likely to have been recorded correctly.

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