What does it really mean to “die of old age”

In the death certificate of Queen Elizabeth II, which I published recently, it is stated that the cause of death was “old age”.

In everyday speech, something like this sounds acceptable, but medically speaking, what exactly does it mean to die of old age in the 21st century.

Such a medically unsubstantiated cause of death, as stated in the excerpt from death register of Queen Elizabethnot only raises the question of how someone died, but it can also be a heavy blow to the family and other close people who are left without a loved one.

People die in many ways

According to the data, in England and Wales, the leading causes of death are dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, cerebrovascular diseases (primarily stroke), cancer and covid in the last two years. Other significant causes of death include chronic diseases of the lower respiratory organs, influenza and pneumonia.

In fact, “old age” as a cause of death—besides the vague description of “weakness”—is mostly categorized as “symptoms, signs, and ill-defined conditions.”

This category is also among the 10 most common causes of death, however, currently far below covid, although when looking at the five-year average, less than flu and pneumonia.

An interesting history of old age as a cause of death

Old age as a cause of death has a long history. Namely, it was the leading cause of death in the 19th century, in addition to another vague category “found dead”.

In the middle of the 19th century, death records passed from the church to secular official records, in the United Kingdom it was regulated by law in 1836.

Then, on the basis of a very influential publication at the time, written by the French statistician and demographer Jacques Bertillon, the classification of causes of death was legally introduced.

Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking wrote that dying of anything other than what was on the official list was “illegal, like dying of old age.” Although that sounded a bit excessive, until the end of the 19th century it was not illegal anywhere to die of old age.

However, specifying the precise cause of death was important because it is a valuable tool for tracking mortality trends at different levels of the population.

So in the end “old age” became the last word to describe the unknown cause of death. Or it was used only in cases where the person may have died from a number of complications, but also in cases where it was not practical or ethical to perform an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death.

Unacceptable cause

Another reason why “old age” was rarely used as a cause of death in the 20th and 21st centuries is that it was not accepted by the family of the deceased.

Research shows that families want information about how their loved one died, not only because it can be useful in solving their health problems, but also because it allows them to come to terms with their loved one’s death.

An unknown cause of death can exacerbate grief and trauma, especially if the death was sudden or unexpected.

Determining how they died is part of how surviving family members manage their grief and mourn their dead.

“Easy Death”

It may seem to someone that looking for additional information about what caused the Queen to die at the age of 96 is a redundant and morbid topic.

Perhaps we can also accept the fact that the royal family deserves the right to privacy not to disclose the intimate details of the Queen’s death.

However, the specific cause of death of someone who lived a privileged life and who died at a very old age, for example, can tell us a lot about how to lead a healthy life and plan for a so-called “easy” death.


Source: Sito&Rešeto by www.sitoireseto.com.

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