False positive death certification. Does the Lazarus phenomenon partly explain false positive death certification by rescue services in Germany, Austria and Switzerland?

Herff,H.; Loosen,S.J.; Paal,P.; Mitterlechner,T.; Rabl,W.; Wenzel,V.
Apart from misdiagnosis, the Lazarus phenomenon, a spontaneous return of circulation after cardiac arrest, is a potential cause for false positive death certification. Because of medicolegal consequences and thus a negative publication bias, the incidence of false positive death certification is unknown. As a false positive death certification results in criminal prosecution and thus media interest, numerous media archives in Germany, Austria and Switzerland were searched for such reports. A total of nine cases of false positive death certification in these three countries were identified since the early 1990s of which eight occurred in an emergency medical service system setting. Apart from a lack of diligence of emergency physicians, a Lazarus phenomenon could be the reason for such incidents. As definite signs of death will not have developed only a few minutes after stopping CPR it might be difficult for an emergency physician to definitely certify a patient's death in an out-of-hospital setting with 100% safety. Thus, prehospital death certification poses a risk of error and subsequent legal prosecution of the emergency physician, as a Lazarus phenomenon may still occur in this phase. Delegation of death certification from emergency physicians to qualified physicians in a follow-up examination might increase both legal safety for emergency physicians in the field and patient safety
Anaesthesist 2010 59(4):342-346
PubMed: 20224947
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