What does death by natural causes REALLY mean? Expert explains the terminology

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What does death by natural causes REALLY mean? Experts explain the terminology

  • Death by natural causes means a coroner rules there was no outside source 
  • Cancer or stroke would be a ‘natural’ death and a car wreck would be ‘unnatural’ 

It’s often heard a that a person’s death was as a result of ‘natural causes’.

But as it is put on the death certificate of S Club’s Paul Cattermole, what does the terminology actually mean?

Many associate the phrase with old age, but it actually signals that a death was as a result of illness within the body, rather than being caused by an external factor.

A natural cause of death is confirmed by a coroner’s certificate, which states that a post-mortem is not needed, based on a doctor’s medical certificate.

Mr Cattermole was found dead on April 6 – just two months after he and the band announced they were due to go on a reunion tour this autumn.

S Club 7's Paul Cattermole was found dead on April 6 - just two months after he and the band announced they were due to go on a reunion tour this autumn

S Club 7’s Paul Cattermole was found dead on April 6 – just two months after he and the band announced they were due to go on a reunion tour this autumn

And today, a spokeswoman for Dorset Coroner’s Office confirmed the singer died suddenly of natural causes aged 46 and there will be no inquest into his death.

Dr Kathryn Pinneri, pathologist and president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, said deaths caused by cancer, stroke or diabetes would be classed as ‘natural causes’.

Examples of ‘non-natural’ deaths include road traffic accidents, suicide, drug overdoses and accidents such as drowning, she told HuffPost. 

And Dr David Fowler, an anatomic and forensic pathologist, described the manner of death to CNN as dying from a ‘natural disease process’.

He said examples of these are illnesses that ‘are going to carry us off at some point along the way’, such as infections or heart disease.

‘If I’m playing a sport and have a heart attack… or shovel snow and have a heart attack because I stressed myself, that’s natural,’ Dr Fowler said. 

But if a person playing sport was to die from something caused by the activity, such as a head injury, that death would not be ‘natural’.

There is a difference between the ’cause’ and ‘manner’ of death.

And despite the fact the term is death by ‘natural causes’, this is actually the ‘manner’ of death – the determination of how the injury or disease leads to death.

The coroner rules whether the manner of death was natural, accidental, or due to suicide or homicide. 

Whereas the ’cause’ is the disease or injury itself that leads to death, such as stroke. 



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