Re: timestamps on death certificates

From: Markus Kuhn <>
Date: Fri, 06 Jun 2003 10:44:30 +0100

Peter Bunclark wrote on 2003-06-06 06:37 UTC:
> > > The correct
> > > time on birth and death certificates is important, but I was not aware of
> > > how important until I saw a posting from Prof. David Mills on
> > > comp.protocols.time.ntp in which he said that UT1 (not UTC) is the legal
> > > standard for death certificates.

Well, he really doesn't go into a great amount of detail, about why
his Coroner Standard Time (CST) should be an integral hour offset
to UT1 exactly.

> > I'd be interested to hear how one measures the
> > leading edge of the human life to death transition
> > pulse with a precision that makes the UT1 vs.
> > UTC question even relevant.
> A husband has a will leaving everything to his wife, or if she dies first,
> to their children. The wife has a will leaving everything to her secret
> lover. They are together in a car crash, and are put on life-support
> systems including heart monitors. They both, sadly, die at around the
> same time; both have a last-recorded heartbeat.

To anyone with even a basic understanding of human biology and modern
intensive care practice, the notion that death could be determined
within better than a minute, not to mention within 1000 ms, is nothing
but ridiculous. Humans stay perfectly concious and altert up to about
12-15 seconds after the last heartbeat (even after decapitation, as
Voltaire demonstrated during the French revolution so elegantly in his
famous very last scientific experiment), and at normal body temperature,
the central nervous system starts to suffer irreparable damage at about
200-300 seconds after the blood flow stops (~10x longer at 10 K lower
temperature). Except for extreme accidents involving detonations or
crashes (e.g., two planes colliding with GPS-guided 1-m precision
alignment during a leap second in 2015, whose flight recorders use UTC
and TI respectively), death is nothing but the gradual accumulation of
tissue damage, and life is a function of the patience and funding of
your intensive care team.

The medical definition of death is simply the minute at which a doctor
decides that this patient is dead and looks at a clock to turn this into
the legal transaction that makes further recusitation attempts
unnecessary. Or did you never wonder, why in so many reports critically
wounded people transported in ambulances die the minute they arrive at a
hospital, but almost never during transport?

Anyone who ever attended a birth will also be able to attest that it is
equally a gradual process that takes significatly longer than 1000 ms.

I seriously doubt that the authors of the US regulations for timestamps
on death certificates even understand the difference between GMT, UT1
and UTC, neither have they any practical need to do so.


Markus Kuhn, Computer Lab, Univ of Cambridge, GB | __oo_O..O_oo__
Received on Fri Jun 06 2003 - 02:48:17 PDT

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