Secrecy in Death Records: A Call to Action


Legal access to death certificates varies widely from state to state. Because death records are crucial to in-depth journalistic reporting, we examined laws related to data access across the United States to determine how possible such reporting would be in each state under current laws. In addition to conducting a survey of state legislation on death certificates, we also conducted a meta-analysis of state legislative history related to these records, sought stories that have relied on death records, and interviewed the reporters who wrote some of those stories. We found that state laws could be categorized in three ways: open access, partial access and closed or very limited access. Only 12 of 50 states were found to have laws that could be considered “open.” We propose solutions and call for actions from key stakeholders to change these laws.