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WKYT Investigates: Can paramedics declare someone dead?

By: Tim Johnston Email
By: Tim Johnston Email

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - In any emergency you look for the flashing lights and help to come quickly, but those paramedics have a tough job with sometimes grim discoveries.

"It's very important that we don't make mistakes on that level of care," stated Mike Poynter, Executive Director of the Kentucky Board of Emergency Medical Services (KBEMS).

Although a mistake appears to be made by a paramedic in Lincoln County who has a complaint filed against him for declaring a woman dead, only to be found breathing by the coroner nearly a half-hour later.

It's a first in Poynter's tenure at KBEMS, as far as he recalls.

"It's really important to determine that there are no signs of life left. Basically, you want to make sure that's not a question," he said.

However, a question has been raised: Can a paramedic declare someone to be dead?

"Paramedics are trained very thoroughly in determination of death, and there are certain procedures that we go through," answered Poynter.

He clarified that the paramedic's assessment is only of a person being "clinically dead," it is a coroner or doctor's responsibility to declare the official death.

Since an investigation into paramedic Troy Cain is underway, Poynter cannot comment about this case directly. Still he was able to answer questions about procedures and requirements and he said since 1998, paramedics have been trained in the procedures about declaring a person to be dead.

"It's stated that you should determine two different leads with an EKG, unless there are signs of trauma," he continued.

This leader also has experience as a paramedic and says sometimes the call goes deeper than what the rules say.

"You've got to use your knowledge, your experience, to make the best decision, you know. If that was your family member what would you do?"

Poynter said making the decision that someone is dead isn't a job to be taken lightly and it's best to exhaust all efforts before having to tell family members their loved one is gone.

WKYT continued to make efforts to reach Cain for a comment, but he has not returned our calls.


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