The 3 reasons why you might be declared dead when you’re still alive

Waking up in your own coffin is a thing of nightmares – and a lot of good horror movies.

And for the unfortunate few, this grisly movie character becomes a reality.

Expert reveals why you could be pronounced dead while still alive


Expert reveals why you could be pronounced dead while still alivePhoto credit: Getty

Just this month, an 82-year-old woman was pronounced dead in a New York nursing home and later discovered alive by funeral home workers.

Earlier, a 66-year-old woman with early-onset dementia was pronounced dead by a nurse, only to gasp when funeral home staff unzipped the body bag.

During medical school, physicians are taught the absence of heart and respiratory murmurs for a period of time, the presence of fixed, dilated pupils, and failure to respond to a stimulus should mean the person is deceased.

But in some cases where death has been confirmed by this process, the patient has shown signs of life thereafter.

This can be the doctor’s fault and it pays to be thorough in such situations.

However, there are some drugs and cases that make an accurate declaration of death a bit difficult,

1. Drugs

Drugs used by doctors to sedate can sometimes reduce responsiveness and slow breathing and circulation.

This means people taking these drugs can sometimes appear dead, said Professor Stephen Hughes, a lecturer in medicine at Anglia Ruskin University.

He wrote in The Conversation: “Later, when the drug is out of the body, the person can wake up.”

Anxiety drugs, diazepam and alprazolam have both led to people being wrongly pronounced dead.

2. Cold water

Prolonged immersion in cold water can also create the illusion of death as it can slow heart rate.

“Doctors are taught that a drowned patient is not considered dead until he is warmed up,” the professor wrote.

3. Shock

Shock and fainting can also trick the certifying physician into thinking someone died before their time, he explained.

The process of fainting triggers the vagus nerve — an important communication link between the brain and body — which slows the heart and reduces blood flow. The 3 reasons why you might be declared dead when you’re still alive

Emma James

Emma James is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Emma James joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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