We received this question: How accurately do coroners report suicide? On the one hand, you don’t want to scotch any life insurance payouts, or stigmatize a family. On the other hand, accurate statistics are important for understanding trends. And on the proverbial third hand, it may be difficult to tell. How do you handle possible suicides?
I record all deaths, including suicides, as accurately as I can based on all of the information we have gathered surrounding the deceased. I would never alter or inaccurately record the circumstances of a death for insurance or reputation purposes, nor would any other coroner I have worked with. I cannot speak for everyone, obviously, but I would hope that the only coroners involved in cover-ups of this sort are the ones found in Hollywood. If we are unsure of the cause of death, we rule it undetermined. Again, that’s regardless of any circumstances. Death is what it is and we aim to accurately determine causes of death based facts and information.
That being said, I most certainly feel for the families that find themselves in those situations. Suicide is never an easy thing to go through. Handling the insurance aspect is certainly not a pleasant process. As far at the stigma – I know it happens, but I have to say that I find it incredibly unfair. Those left behind after a suicide often carry an immense amount of guilt and grief. I have witnessed family members place blame on each other for the suicide. I try to warn people to avoid going down the blame path. It tears families apart. I have seen it many times. Ultimately, no one is responsible for another persons feelings or actions, especially in relation to the act of committing suicide. The blame cannot lie with the people left behind. It is not theirs to carry. I hope that more people can come to understand these things and that this “suicide stigma” can cease to exist.