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J Forensic Sci. 2006 Sep;51(5):1127-33.

Use of "therapeutic complication" as a manner of death.

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  • 1Office of Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York, and Department of Forensic Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, 520 First Avenue, New York, NY 10016, USA.


Analyses of deaths due to therapeutic complications (TCs) provide important quality of care information for medical providers. In New York City, 463 deaths were investigated by the Office of Chief Medical Examiner and certified with TC as the manner of death in 2003. The TC manner of death is used for fatalities due to predictable complications of appropriate medical therapy. All death certificates and select autopsy, hospital, and investigation reports were reviewed. Data concerning cause of death, contributing conditions, age, race, and sex were extracted. The types of complications and the causes of death were classified into various types of surgical and nonsurgical categories of complications. These included: postoperative infections, pulmonary emboli, and technical and medication complications. The use of TC as a manner of death has benefits and limitations. Without the TC option, one is forced to certify certain deaths (e.g., penicillin anaphylaxis) either as natural or accident. The TC option allows easy identification and tracking of medical complications for public health purposes and also allows more consistent reporting of natural and medical-accidental deaths. In general, complications that occur during emergency surgeries/procedures for natural disease, tend to be certified with a natural manner. The "but for" test may be used to distinguish natural from TC deaths. There are criteria for distinguishing TC from accidents and homicides. TCs that occur during treatment of a potentially life-threatening injury, are superseded by the manner dictated by the circumstances of the initiating injury. The certification of TC usually does not address errors of omission, clinical judgement/management, or missed diagnoses.

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